12 Days of Highly Tolerable Holiday Movies: Twelve Monkeys

The Freedom For Animals association on Second Avenue is the secret headquarters of the Army of the 12 Monkeys. They’re the ones who are going to do it. I can’t do anymore, I have to go now. Have a Merry Christmas!

12 Monkeys (Terry Gilliam, 1995). All-time favorite film, all-time favorite director.

In a future world devastated by disease, a convict is sent back in time to gather information about the man-made virus that wiped out most of the human population on the planet.

(the imdb)


So as I said, this is my favorite movie of all time, in any genre — all other comers are just vying for second — and I screencapped the everloving Gilliamic crap out of it last week.


Filled with glee that this qualified as a holiday picture, I innocently thought, “Surely everyone who ever planned to see this film has seen it by now, so it’s okay for me to put up all my pictures.”

But if the internet has taught me anything in the past year on this here thought experiment, it is above all else that it is possible for people to get mad at you for anything, so, at a certain point, this post will have a jump/cut. You will be able to click and be taken to a standalone page with only this entry, so that those sensitive surfers who I think must actually go searching pop culture blogs specifically for spoilers will not be able to yell at me for said spoilers. I’ll also be able to prove why this is a holiday movie.


That point is now. Click below to go to the full-page entry, with trivia, analysis, lines, and tons more pictures.

“I am mentally divergent, in that I am escaping certain unnamed realities that plague my life here. When I stop going [to Ogo], I will be well. Are you also divergent, friend?” Click here if you qualify for bunny slippers at the monkeyhouse. (Be honest.)

edit: I took the jump out. Screw the small minority of spoiler-haters. Sorry, guys. Rail away if you must.

Still with me? Great!



Telephone call? Telephone call? That’s — that’s communication with the outside world. Doctor’s discretion. Uh-uh. Look, if all of these nuts could just … make phone calls, they could spread insanity! Oozing through telephone cables, oozing into the ears of all those poor, sane people — infecting them! Wackos everywhere: plague of madness.



Hence the agony of foreknowledge combined with the impotence to do anything about it. …

Surely there is very real and very convincing data that the planet cannot survive the excesses of the human race: proliferation of atomic devices, uncontrolled breeding habits, the rape of the environment. In this context, wouldn’t you agree that “Chicken Little” represents the sane vision and that homo sapiens‘ motto, “Let’s go shopping!” is the cry of the true lunatic?

(That last was Dr. “Actual Bad Guy” Peters. He says it to Kathryn after her lecture when he’s getting his book signed.)


The lion James sees at the beginning is echoed by the camel perched on the top of the hotel in 1996. The image also shows up in a frame of a statue of a lion atop a stone as they search for Goines, and by the giraffes running across the overpass in Philadelphia many frames down.

No detail is too small to be necessary to the mise en scene of this film. Kathryn watches this Woody Woodpecker cartoon as she waits for James to get back in 1996 to the Oasis hotel. In the asylum in 1990, the movie on the television in the background as Goines rants is the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business.



I get it! This is your old plan, right?

Plan? What are you talking about?

Remember? We were in the dayroom, watching television, and you were all upset about the–the — desecration of the planet, and you said to me, “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a germ, or a virus, that could wipe out mankind and leave the plants and animals just as they are?” You do remember that, don’t you?

Bulishit! You’re fucking with my head!

And that’s when I told you my father was this famous virologist and you said, “Hey, he could make a germ and we could steal it!”

Listen, you dumb fuck! The thing mutates — We live underground! The world belongs to the — the fucking dogs and cats. We’re like moles or worms. All we want to do is study the original!

Chris Meloni of Law & Order: SVU in a lovely little dickish part, a totally Terry Gilliam character: an individual given all the facts who refuses to acknowledge the possibility that the truth suggested by those facts could possibly be. Gilliam thrives on the absurd, and I think throws these Doubting Thomases in to the works to demonstrate how ugly a reception his credulous character constructions would receive in the world we all agree to be “real.”



Women will want to get to know you.

For me this is the creepiest Scientist line in the film. Even in the future, when the plague has driven everyone underground, a guy who considers himself “hep” will try to use the allure of poontang to bring a poor guy down. So unfair and underselling for the Cole character, like that is a carrot that can be held out before him in the face of what he’s endured.

Until I was screencapping, I never really noticed how much screen time the so-called “Apocalypse Nut” and true villain, David Morse playing Dr. Peters, Jeffrey’s father Dr. Goines’ lab tech, is given.



When I was institutionalized, my brain was studied exhaustively in the guise of “mental health.” I was interrogated, I was x-rayed, I was examined thoroughly.

Then they took everything about me and put it into a computer where they created this model of my mind. Yes! Using that model they managed to generate every thought I could possibly have in the next, say, ten years, which they then filtered through a probability matrix of some kind to — to determine everything I was going to do in that period.

So you see, she knew I was going to lead the Army of the Twelve Monkeys into the pages of history, before it ever even occurred to me. She knows everything I’m ever going to do before I know it myself. How’s that?


Who cares what psychiatrists write on walls?

I say this when a Thing matters and we are trying to diminish it.




Hey! Is that the police? I’m in here, I’m an innocent victim! I was attacked. By a coked-out whore and some fucked-up dentist!

I love how deranged Kathryn is in this scene, screaming at James to get Wallace’s wallet before they skedaddle. “We need cash!” But moments before, so tender when she touches his scalp with her curiously ugly hands. Madeline Stowe is the bomb.


Oh, hey, what’s a holiday movie? This is! Besides taking place during the Christmas season, we got some straight-up Santa action goin’ right here. Hope you can handle how very “holiday” this movie is.


James! James! It’s okay. We’re insane! We’re crazy! It’s a carpet cleaning company —

A carpet cleaning company?

No scientists — no people from the future! It’s just a carpet cleaning company. They have voice mail; you leave a message telling them when you want your carpet cleaned.

You … you left them a message?


Yeah, I couldn’t resist. I said, “The Freedom For Animals Association on 2nd Avenue is the —”

“— ‘is the secret headquarters of the Army of the 12 Monkeys. They’re the ones who are going to do it. I can’t do anymore, I have to go now. Have a Merry Christmas.'”


I’m not crazy.


I think I’ve seen this movie before. When I was a kid. It was on TV.

The Vertigo moment. This movie’s plot was inspired by Chris Marker’s La jetée, which also, in its turn, refers to the film Vertigo. While in the past, the protagonist of La jetée visits a Museum of Natural History with the blonde object of his affections, who points to the trunk of a cross-sectioned tree, the same way Kim Novak does in Muir Woods in Hitchock’s Vertigo, as shown in this scene from Twelve Monkeys. “Here I was born, and here I died. But it was only a moment for you — you took no notice.” Kathryn wears a blonde wig in this scene.

The lion I referred to further back, part of the recurring theme of wilderness which has been kept in captivity, let loose. Like the camel, like the giraffes, like the lethal virus, like James Cole released from his future underground incarceration to try and make time turn back and stand still.



It’s not just my dream. I was actually here! I remember now. … About a week or two before — before everybody started dying. I think you were here, too. But you — you looked just like you look now.

The exterior shots for the crucial airport scenes were done at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, while the interiors are from the Reading Terminal at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.



Today, you gotta take in to account your Army-of-the-Twelve-Monkeys factor.

Wh–what? What did you say?

The Twelve Monkeys, honey. … Bunch’a weirdoes let all the animals out of the zoo last night.

This cabbie’s name is Annie Golden. You can also catch her in the soon-to-be-justly-famous I Love You, Phillip Morris.


That’s what they were up to! Freeing the animals!

On the walls — they meant the animals when they said, “We did it.”

Only assholes write on walls.




Excuse me, sir. I’m going to need to have a look at the contents of your bag.

Me?



Biological samples. I have the paperwork right here.

I’m going to have to ask you to open this, sir.

Open it? … Of course.

The curious, diffuse wash that bathes these final scenes was acheived with Fresnel lensed lights. Fresnels, a favorite tool of Gilliam’s, are a beveled lighthouse-and-old-car-headlamp-style lens.

The entire instrument consists of a metal housing, a reflector, a lamp assembly, and a Fresnel lens. Fresnel instruments usually have a convenient way of changing the focal distance between the lamp and the lens. The Fresnel lens produces a very soft-edged beam, so it is often used as a wash light. A holder in front of the lens can hold a colored plastic film (gel) to tint the light or wire screens or frosted plastic to diffuse it. … The Fresnel lens is useful in the making of motion pictures not only because of its ability to focus the beam brighter than a typical lens, but also because the light is a relatively consistent intensity across the entire width of the beam of light.

(the wiki)


I remember reading a review when this film came out which criticized the inconsistency between Cole’s memory of this moment from dream to dream and what happened in actuality. The reviewer said it took away from the original inspirational idea in La jetée, where Marker’s narrator saw himself die as a child but, they felt, moved more definitely toward that moment as events unfolded in the short film. The supplanting of an unseen “Watch it” man in a yellow jacket with first Goines and then Dr. Peters was, the reviewer claimed, too foggy.


Well, excuse me, Mr. Super-brilliant reviewer, but the fogginess is kind of the entire point. The weirdly symmetrical plot of Twelve Monkeys is a cyclical rumination on the subjectivity of memory and identity. Put that in your cool-guy pipe and smoke it. Asshat.

I went to this film probably a few months after its release, when it hit the $2 second-run theater we had in town at that time, and I ended up going back almost every night that week, taking different friends. I remember very clearly that one of my friends said when it was over, “That’s so weird that in the future the insurance lady that sits by the bad guy on the plane is a scientist.”

“Um — I’m pretty sure she’s from the future in that scene.” Like, maybe it’s too late for Philly, but she’s going to stop Peters from going to San Francisco, Rio de Janeiro, et al. She says she is in insurance. Right? I mean, we’ve seen her in 2035, looking exactly the same, a highly placed physicist. I sincerely doubt that in 1996 she was an insurance agent who planned to survive the plague and not age.

Is this even up for debate? I’m serious, does someone have an alternate interpretation of that scene?

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12 Responses to “12 Days of Highly Tolerable Holiday Movies: Twelve Monkeys”

  1. Z Says:

    nope. that is exactly what that scene means.

  2. Gorgeous George Says:

    I do have a slightly different interpretation of the final scene on the plane. While I believe you are correct, in the fact that the woman is the scientist traveled back from the future. It goes against the whole idea of the movie, to assume that she is there to change anything. Cole’s repetitive attempts at changing his path, always met with the same futility. I think it is meant to be assumed, that the scientist is there to get samples of the virus in its pure form to take back to the “present” and develop a cure. That’s how I have always viewed it. (Also, love the movie choice, one of my personal faves)

    • E. Says:

      I bet you’re right.

      • zeon1996 Says:

        hey your pretty darn cute for a genius! Excellent work on the “Caps” and I am totally wrapped in this intricate plot and fantastic screenplay. I am a little slow on the uptake, and just learning Blogging, but can say, how very kewl to have such a position and premise on “The Thought Experiment” and I like your philosophy.
        WooHOO! E. Says and E. Rocks!!!

  3. Quandary Says:

    Great movie. Loved your caps and write-up.

    Another interesting theory on the final scene is that the doctor is there from the future, not to stop the spread of the virus but to ensure that it happens! (to protect their positions of power in the future) Thus the “I’m in insurance” line.

  4. zeon1996 Says:

    Of course Georgeous George is right. She IS in insurance, Insurance of the Existence of the Human Race! Willis was always faced with the Paradox of his own death, knowing that he must die, but without ever having the knowledge of the success of his work. Hey, women will like him… Ominous reward, will they like him to death? …Just a joke. It was his proximity to the individual responsible for the crime against humanity, which brought about insurance of the individuals underground. I did some research on this and found a class at a college, with a course summary for this movie and the movie’s basis. One question I thought I could answer by watching the video, actually queued-stopped, due to a phone call, was “Why was the radio turned off, and I did watch that part where the radio is on, and the story about the boy is presented, but afterward they go back to the music, maybe that is the simple answer – the story -, but the music continues right up to the jump-cut.

    This is my all time favorite movie ever, and I agree. nothing has come close to a distant second, for me anyway.

    The actors in this film are great, and I always chuckle at “I only see dead people”. Their performances are so intense. I read that Brad actually participated in either visits to a “mental hospital” or had in depth sessions with analysts about the nature of Jeffery’s illness. One thread that seems true to both the lab assistant and Jeffery is that if people are not good “consumers” then they must be insane. This becomes apparent when the lab assistant is talking at the signing with the “let’s go shopping” line as being a sign of insane thinking, when so many troubles exist in this world. Jeffery gives the theme treatment much more body. I also read the idea of Jeffery pulling his bottoms down on his scrub or hospital pants was improvised by Brad Pitt. I always wondered if he may have thought, “Bruce gets a rear view, I want one too”.

    The deep question is, “will the underground people go back in time, and save all those who die, creating an even bigger Paradox? Never read the source work for the inspiration of this movie, but plan to someday.

    I can’t do anymore, I have to go now. Have a Merry Christmas. (2012, the year the world ended)

    Vinyl@OnYourTurntable

  5. zeon1996 Says:

    Excellent coverage of the film “12 Monkeys” Is this Philly, are we now members of the AOTTM, well…. hee heh huh

  6. zeon1996 Says:

    Reblogged this on zeonsite and commented:
    Welcome to Philly

  7. CaM Says:

    Did anyone else get the irony the Insurance Scientist lady sits next to him on the plane AFTER he has already released the virus? When she goes back to make her report, she will infect all the remaining underground survivors.

  8. zeon1996 Says:

    I like this blog cause I love monkeys, 12 of them.
    Here is a real thought to consider:
    Cole does not die, he only witnesses his own shooting. He returns to be pardoned, and “cured” with the serum the scientists develop. Now, for that to happen, the future must go back in time once more to save Cole, since they now know where he is and they are getting better at time travel.
    -but what happens when they do?, well that’s an entirely different movie.
    oh yes gotta say it E. you are very kool! Z

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