12 Monkeys [spoilers, duh]

12 Monkeys. Bleak, dystopian time-travel sci-fi done right.


Time travel and paradoxes. Hollywood finds this impossible to do well, and time and time again, I’ve hated how this school of time travel has been subscribed to by TV shows and films, but I loved the way 12 Monkeys approached it.

12 Monkeys was pretty clear with its time travel rules and what I’d classify as an unhappy [happy for me] ending. Cole gets a second chance, seeks a new life filled with hope and happiness, dies. Boom! Its ending however, leaves some room to be discussed.

Are the sinister—seemingly incompetent at times—scientists of the future wanting nothing to change so they remain in their position of power, sending Cole on a hunt to simply fulfill his fate, dying at the airport? I say sinister, because, why else would they not try and save the world’s population in the first place? Purely to avoid pardoxes? Then you hear madam scientist [Jones] in conversation with the assistant on the plane, and she seems quite happy with a cleaning of the slate.

It’s obscene. All the violence, all the lunacy. Shootings even at airports now. You might say that we’re the next endangered species. Human beings. 

I think you’re right, ma’am. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. 

Jones is my name. I’m in insurance.

Even the false promise of José and giving his gun to help Cole kill the assistant is what more than likely leads to the guards seeing Cole as a threat and killing him.

Ok, so Cole dies, but at least he died so the scientists can obtain a cure to eventually save humanity, right? The scientist is on board the plane with the assistant, and can obtain a sample to take back to the future and humanity can be saved. That’s, something!

Then I read this interpretation, which is even darker…

So the second interpretation of the final line — “I’m in insurance” — is that she is there to ensure that Cole fails and the virus is spread. After all, they are in charge in the future, and the virus put them there.  If they come up with a vaccine, their power is threatened. So why not send people on wild goose chases to pretend they’re working on something and use it as a way to eliminate those who cause trouble (as Cole had done)?

Either way, this doesn’t end in sunshine and rainbows.


Bruce Willis put forward a fine performance as a man whose mind is all over the place, but, Brad Pitt, you crazy kid, you! Amidst the bleakness and despair, an honourable mention has to go out to Pitt’s Jeffrey Goines. A treat to watch, playing a psychotic, zany mental patient and resident red herring. 

This is my first time seeing it, and even early on, I couldn’t help but make comparisons to Duncan Jones’ Source Code. I was disappointed with Source Code, and felt it left its smarts to tick more Hollywood blockbuster boxes, and now, doubly so, seeing the similarities and how uninspired it was viewed against 12 Monkeys.

And now I’ve got Brazil queued up, as part of the impromptu Gilliam marathon, and I hear it’s even better!

Also trying to find a copy of La Jetée, the French short film from 1962 that 12 Monkeys was based on.


Thank you once again, /r/movies, for providing a brilliant discussion. I’m surprised every time! 

Primer also queued up now!


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