Genre Grandeur – Twelve Monkeys (1995) – Back to the Viewer


For this month’s first review for Genre Grandeur – Dystopian Movies, here’s a review of Twelve Monkeys (1995) by James of Back to the Viewer

Thanks again to James of Back to the Viewer for choosing this month’s genre.

Next month’s Genre has been chosen by S.G. Liput of Rhyme and Reason.  We will be reviewing our favorite fantasy/sci-fi animated movies (non-Disney or Pixar) . Please get me your submissions by 25th May by sending them to  Try to think out of the box! Great choice S.G.!

Let’s see what James thought of this movie:



I’m here about some monkeys.


Monkeys. Yes. Twelve of them.


Terry Gilliam’s dystopian tale follows a delusional man desperate to buy twelve monkeys after a man-made virus left him bereft of his seven swimming swans and six laying geese.

While that would make for some fantastic holiday season satire it wasn’t quite what Gilliam had in mind. Although, it’s difficult to pindown exactly what goes on in that pinball wizard brain of his.

In Terry Gilliam’s masterfully challenging 2035 set science fiction tale 1% of the human population survived a pure germ outbreak and have been forced into underground existence. Very little is known about the virus, who created it, and who released it. All that is known is the year of its origin. Bruce Willis as James Cole, a convict chosen for his powers of observation and memory is sent back to 1996 to discover the source of the virus.

Typical of Gilliam’s work he utilises psychological and philosophical themes adding depth to his wonderous tales. Twelve Monkeys sympathises with the “Cassandra Complex” which highlights the films guiding principle. “The agony of foreknowledge combined with impotence to do anything about it.” In the case of Twelve Monkeys this principle relates directly to Cole. Sent from 2035 to 1996, not so much to change events of the past but to gather information about the release of the virus and report back to the scientists that sent him. Poignantly stating, “All I see are dead people.” Which serves as a potent reminder that Cole is unable to prevent the outbreak.

2Plucked from his cosy confines of a rusty cage Cole is chosen for ‘volunteer’ duty to venture above ground and gather evidence. Upon his return he’s sent to 1996, or what he believes is 1996. In fact, it’s when he meets psychiatrist Dr. Kathryn Railly that he discovers he’s actually been sent to 1990 by mistake. Committed to a mental institution for his disturbed, incomprehensive ramble about the future, the past, and everything in between Railly forms an obsession with Cole and his unique perspective of the longevity of human existence.

You know what crazy is? Crazy is majority rules. Take germs, for example.

It’s in this loony bin that we meet one Jeffrey Goines. Brad Pitt shines in one of his finest performances to date, alongside Tyler Durden in Fincher’s Fight Club. He twitches, glares, screams, disturbs, blathers, and quips to fellow patients, to orderlies, and to doctors, but when he meets Cole he finds something he’s been searching for. A like-minded individual. Goines seems to be the only person who believes Cole is telling the truth, about coming from the future, but more importantly about the near extinction of the human race. Goines’ own apocolyptic, anarchic spirit is awakened in 1990, the true potential of his contagious madness is left unknown when Cole pulls a dramatic Houdini on his captors, but rest assured Goines returns in all his wacky glory.

3Delivered back to the surprisingly hospitable panel of scientists in 2035 Cole is hoist up into the air once more for a debrief, still unaware that they sent him to 1990. When Cole reveals this news to them they seem baffled and immmediately get to prying about what Cole got upto. Explaining he ended up in a mental institution the scientists sigh in disappointment but everything happens for a reason right? Images flash up on the screen, faces, rallies, protests, destruction. Jeffrey Goines crazed face pops up and hope spreads across the panel of scientists. Suiting Cole up and strapping him in once more he’s prepared for time travel, this time to 1996, hopefully. But, “non” scream the french soldiers in a WW1 trench, Cole takes a bullet from Chekhov’s Gun and his journey is over before it’s begun. But this is Gilliam, nothing is insignificant.

The second half of Twelve Monkeys I leave for your viewing pleasure. This dystopian tale of helplessness toys with realistic notions and leaves on a potent reminder. “You might say that ‘we’re’ the next endangered species – human beings.” All of Gilliam’s little intricacies and nuances play out to their full extent which leave the viewer with a somewhat confused cork board of faces, timelines, and conclusions centring around the Army of the Twelve Monkeys, a harbinger of change and a catalyst of necessitated investigation. Gilliam cleverly disguises this elaborate detective tale, challenging Cole’s sanity and convincing him he’s mentally divergent despite his inauspicious roots grounded in reality.

Although the majority of this dystopian tale takes place in the 90s Gilliam employs an omnipresent state of structural decay in his sets and script to convey a foreboding image of social and moral decadence. “Look at them. They’re just asking for it. Maybe the human race deserves to be wiped out.” Cole may have inadvertently planted the seed in Goines’ warped mind but Gilliam’s scripts are anything but smattered in coincidence.

Worthy of a Must-see rating Twelve Monkeys dance around on stage convincing would-be suitors to part with their precious cash posing as this year’s must-have Christmas present. Wait…I’m getting confused again. Maybe I’m mentally divergent? Only time will tell.

* * * *

Thanks goes out to Movierob for another great Genre Grandeur


3 thoughts on “Genre Grandeur – Twelve Monkeys (1995) – Back to the Viewer

  1. Nice review, James. Still one of my top five favorite films, ever. The Cassandra Complex, as you insight-fully point out, is a great premise for a sci-fi. I thought Brad Pitt never acted better than in this film.


  2. Pingback: Genre Grandeur April Finale – Total Recall (1990) – Back to the Viewer |

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