Twelve Monkeys hurt my head. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand the time travelling, end of the world plot; I reveled in it. What hurt my head was the claustrophobic and psychotic nature of the characters, there is never a calm and you get thrown into this mystery spanning decades in a world of unpredictable people and the unknown. It hurt my head but I enjoyed the hurting.
The idea is that the world has hit a bit of a slump, a virus has gone and killed five billion people and now the survivors must live underground. Animals roam wild and banners and graffiti suggest a group called Twelve Monkeys did it. Bruce Willis plays prisoner James Cole and is sent to the past to observe how the virus was spread so the present could be made into a better future. The chaotic and claustrophobic nature of the present is very Blade Runner, (or even Super Mario Bros The Movie, but let’s not got there) and it’s a shame we don’t see more of it in the film, but what we do see is an impressive look of the future which seems to have vanished in recent years. Crazy punk haircuts and big messes of wires attaching everything together just isn’t in at the moment.
The past is 1990, another era I like seeing in films before everyone become glued to phones and shiny plastic furniture and it feels torn down, almost like an outside version of the present. Cole being a time travel doesn’t get the Back To The Future treatment, and is instead put down as clinically insane. Being drugged up constantly from the present and the past makes him a dangerous character, he makes daring actions and even though he has a soft heart lying under his beatdowns and shouting, he is an unpredictable character which really leaves a constant edge as the film goes on. The crowd he mixes with, such as the mental patients and the police chasing him down add to the unnatural feel the film presents. It even dips into the surreal at times providing some great dark humour. The kooky scientists of the present are a highlight.
Then we come to Brad Pitt’s role as Jeffery Goines, a clear mentalist who believes he isn’t. His constant chattering, twitches and finger movements create most bizarre character in the film and he has the unpredictable and dangerous edge Bruce Willis has. Being an unknown quantity you to will piece together the plot trying to link this guy with it all the way through, one of the best performances I’ve seen from Pitt. Psychiatrist Kathryn Railley (Madeleine Stowe) completes the three central characters and she seems just as crazy as the others, agreeing to Willis’s demands as she is dragged through his search for the virus.
The film’s focus on the mind going mad, how a time traveler would appear mad and the implications to ones mind from time travelling is a fresh take after all these successful trips through time with clear-headed characters. The plot is clever as each piece clicks together (though sometimes I wonder why certain actions or thought processes don’t come till later times) and seeing James Cole transform as he loses reality is better than any crazy bad guy shootout scene they could have gone for. The ending ties everything together and leaves you thinking about every little quality the film had long after the credits. Messy future sci-fi’s seem to really it the mark. Super Mario film being an omission of course…