"I am mentally divergent, in that I am escaping certain unnamed realities that plague my life here. When I stop going there, I will be well. Are you also divergent, friend?"
That is the question that the audience has to ask itself during this sci-fi mentally ill time traveling futuristic movie. Is the lead character mentally ill or is he really on a mission traveling through time in order to find a cure to a deadly virus that has wiped off nearly all the population and forced the few survivors to live underground? Director Terry Gilliam has created a memorable sci-fi flick that like all time traveling films has a few in-congruencies but still manages to hold the audience's attention. Gilliam is better known for his work in Monty Python, but he's also directed different types of genre films like The Fisher King (dramedy), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (adventure), and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Fantasy). He has a pretty respectable filmography as a director, although I still think he did his best work in the 90's. This film has a strong screenplay, but it will be remembered for the strong performances from Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt. Twelve Monkeys is a dark futuristic film similar in some ways to Blade Runner although it kind of diverges all over the place with so many ideas. This is an inventive film but I don't know how many ideas were taken from Chris Marker's 1962 short film, La jetee, which inspired this movie. The screenplay was adapted by David Webb Peoples (Blade Runner, Unforgiven) and Janet Peoples. His influence from Blade Runner seems to be mixed in the screenplay here as well. This is a very fun sci-fi film although full of really weird moments.
The film takes place sometime in the future after a deadly virus wiped out over 5 billion people and the few survivors were forced to live underground. James Cole (Bruce Willis) is a convict who is sent by a group of scientists to the past in order to gather information about the virus. The scientists want to study the virus so they can create a cure and live in the outside world once again. Cole is mistakenly sent to 1990 instead of 1996 which was the year in which the virus began spreading, and he ends up in a mental hospital after attacking several police officers. At the mental hospital he is treated by Dr. Railly (Madeleine Stowe) and he also meets another patient named Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt) who happens to be the son of a famous scientist (Christopher Plummer). Cole at first begins to search desperately for the "Army of the Twelve Monkeys" because they are believed to be the group responsible for spreading the virus, but later he begins to question himself and believe that he might actually be insane himself. This is a puzzle that he will have to piece together with the help of Railly.
This is the puzzle that Gilliam invites the audience to solve along the way and keeps us guessing as the plot unfolds before our eyes. I'm not a huge fan of futuristic films, but Gilliam's vision here is pretty hypnotic and poetic. Most of the film actually takes place in the past, but there are several elements introduced that keep us guessing what will happen next. There were a few stand out scenes like the one in which Cole and Railly are at a movie theater and begin commenting on how despite having seen the movie before the perception of it changes every time, similar to what is happening with Cole through his time traveling. Does his presence in the past change things in the future? Can he find the virus on time in order to save the people in the future? These are a few questions that the film raises. The more you think about things the more flaws you will find, but that doesn't take away anything from this sci-fi film. I really liked Brad Pitt's performance here for which he received an Academy nomination, although he lost to Kevin Spacey (The Usual Suspects). The film runs a bit long, but it never ceases to entertain.