Lost the Plot: 12 Monkeys

Ever wanted to know what "12 Monkeys" was all about? With our new Lost the Plot series we look at films that really do need a little explaining. Watch out - contains SPOILERS .

The Cast: Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt, Madeleine Stowe, Christopher Plummer
The Director: Terry Gilliam
The Story: The Army of the Twelve Monkeys, an animal liberation group, is implicated in the murder of five billion people with a virus in 1996. Years later, the remaining humans live like laboratory animals, in an underground penal colony run by a scientific elite.

Convicts are 'volunteered' for dangerous research missions above ground. After one of these missions, James Cole (Bruce Willis) is selected to travel back in time to study the origins of the virus. This may be because he was present at the moment it was unleashed, as we learn from a recurring dream in which a man is gunned down in an airport.

Mistakenly sent to 1990, his claims land him in a mental hospital. There he meets fellow patient Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt), son of a prominent microbiologist (Christopher Plummer) and founder of the Twelve Monkeys. He also meets the moderately sympathetic Dr Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe).

The next attempt to visit '96 sends Cole to the First World War trenches, where he is wounded. A photo taken at this time alerts Railly to the fact that he is telling the truth. The antique bullet that remains in his leg when he finally arrives in the right year clinches it.

Cole discovers that a chance remark in 1990 led Goines to conceive his masterplan. When the plan is executed, we discover that the activists only meant to release animals from the zoo.

In fact it is a colleague of Goines's father, Dr Peters (David Morse), who unleashes the virus. This becomes apparent when he is seen at the same airport in which Cole and Railly are trying to escape. Attempting to stop him, Cole is shot in front of his infant self, who also happens to be present. This is the memory which has plagued him all his life - that of his own death. The future cannot be changed. It has already happened.
The Facts:

  • Based on Chris Marker's 1962 short "La Jetée".
  • Gilliam's 1995 sci-fi classic grossed over $150 million worldwide.
  • Brad Pitt received his only Oscar nomination to date.
  • Bruce Willis was given a list of acting clichés he wasn't allowed to use during the movie.

Got a film you want explaining? Drop us a line at films.website@bbc.co.uk and we'll do our best to help!

Read our five-star review of "12 Monkeys".