Friday, October 14, 2011

Film Friday: Twelve Monkeys (1995)

I want to like Terry Gilliam’s films. I want to respect Terry Gilliam’s films. But I can’t. They’re a mess. Twelve Monkeys is an exception. Twelve Monkeys is almost brilliant. What makes it brilliant is its twist on time travel paradoxes. What makes it “almost” is Gilliam’s usual problems.

** spoiler alert -- I will talk about the ending **

Based on the French short film La jetée, Twelve Monkeys is a complex time travel story about a dystopian future. James Cole (Bruce Willis) is sent back in time from the future to observe key players who will cause a viral apocalypse. Specifically, he’s sent to observe Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt) who will form a group called the Army of the Twelve Monkeys, who appear to take credit for destroying humanity. Goines’ father (Christopher Plummer) owns a biotechnology firm, and the future scientists who send Willis back think Pitt stole a deadly virus from his father and unleashed it on the world. But things don’t quite turn out that way.
“Almost” Brilliant
Terry Gilliam is his own worst enemy. He loves including nonsensical images, characters who are too conscious of being on film, and chaotic scenes that fall apart immediately if you look at the chaos rather than the main characters. Essentially, he hamstrings his talent with his penchant for ridiculousness which he thinks is a statement about humanity. It’s not. Twelve Monkeys worked because Gilliam didn’t write it. It contains many of his trademark problems, but those things were not enough to ruin this strong script.

One thing Gilliam does do right, however, is present a fascinatingly nuanced peek at insanity. Twelve Monkeys involves three purportedly insane characters, and each gives us a different take on the subject:
● Willis isn’t actually insane, though he thinks he is. His problem is he’s weak-minded and feels out of place when he gets sent back in time to a world he doesn’t understand. But he only truly loses touch with reality when he tries to conform to a world he knows to be wrong.

● Pitt is a spoiled rich kid. He isn’t insane, but he likes the idea of being insane because he thinks it makes him special and it affords him the freedom to lash out at those around him. Pitt’s insanity is most like the insanity Hollywood villains normally portray and ironically, our belief that he’s insane leads us on a wild goose chase.

● Finally, Dr. Goines’ assistant Dr. Peters (David Morse) is truly insane as he becomes fascinated with the idea of wiping out the human race. He is the ultimate example of power corrupting, only it corrupted his mind.
Brilliance: Time Travel Paradox
What makes Twelve Monkeys so brilliant is how it deals with time travel paradoxes. Hollywood generally uses two types of time travel paradoxes, but rarely combines them. This film combines them and then adds a fascinating twist.

The grandfather paradox is the idea that you can’t go back in time and kill your grandfather because then you would never exist to go back in time in the first place. Ergo, you can’t change the past. On its surface, Twelve Monkeys is about that paradox. Willis gets sent back in time to our present by future scientists. They want Willis to observe events and discover how the virus that destroys humanity gets released. This will allow them to go back to that exact moment and get a sample of the virus before it mutates, which they can use to stop the virus in the future. And indeed, pay attention and you'll see one of the scientists sitting next to Peters on the plane for that very purpose.

But why not stop the virus being released? Because of the grandfather paradox. If they stop Peters, the future will change BUT then they wouldn't exist to come back and stop Peters -- hence Peters still releases the virus. Ergo, time can’t be changed. To pound this home, we see all of Willis’ attempts to change the future fail. By trying to disavow his mission when he first arrives in the present, he actually gives Pitt the idea to destroy humanity, which sets everything into motion. By trying to tell Pitt’s father what will happen, Willis causes Pitt’s father to change his security protocols, which allows Peters to steal the virus. Finally, by trying to stop Peters at the airport, Willis’ gets himself killed right before a young boy who happens to be Willis and who will be scarred from this, which will cause him to become maladjusted, which is what gets him chosen by the scientists to go back in time. In effect, the more Willis tries to change the future, the more he causes it.

That’s what most reviewers got out of the film -- that Willis made his own destiny and couldn’t change the future. But something even more interesting is going on.
Brilliance: The Second Paradox
There is a second time travel paradox, which involves someone from the present bringing something back from the future which causes the future. For example, bringing back DNA from a killer monkey, which then gets used to create the monkey, which otherwise wouldn’t have existed. Logically there cannot be a killer monkey until it is created, yet in this scenario they skip ahead and steal its DNA before they actually create it. Is that possible? Logic can’t help us answer this because it is a paradox -- it exists outside logic.

From Willis’ perspective, Twelve Monkey involves the grandfather paradox. He wants to change events, but can’t. But from our perspective, Twelve Monkeys involves the second paradox, because Willis comes from the future and causes the very future he wants to stop. Including both paradoxes in the same film is already a fascinating twist. But there’s more.

Anyone trying to stop Willis will be subject to the grandfather paradox because he is now part of the past. It would be the same thing as if they tried to shoot Peters. They would cease to exist and thus events would continue as before. It is an inescapable loop. But there is one way out: Willis can change the past. Think about it. The reason the grandfather paradox is a problem is that once the time traveler changes the past, the future changes, which prevents the time traveler from coming back and changing the past, which resets the past to the way it was before the time traveler intervened. But that isn’t what would happen here because it was Willis’ actions which caused the timeline in the first place. If Willis doesn’t speak to Pitt or Pitt’s father, there will be no virus and no future from which Willis can travel to the past. But since the new virus-free timeline doesn't depend on Willis coming back and doing something, it won't revert to the virus timeline Willis wanted to change. The loop is broken. But only Willis can make this change because he’s in the unique position of being the cause. Anyone else would be subject to the grandfather paradox.

Now here’s a fascinating question. Can Willis change the future by shooting Pitt? Yes, he can. If he shoots Pitt, then the future is never created. That means Willis can’t come back to shoot Pitt, but it also means Willis can't start the events that release the virus. Hence, again, the timeline is set to its normal virus-free course and the loop is broken. But does the answer change if he shoots Peters? By the time he would shoot Peters, he’s already set events in motion in the past by talking to Pitt, so that part of the past is written, meaning the grandfather paradox should apply... but if he shoots Peters and the virus never gets released, then how can he talk to Pitt? There’s no true answer.

These are the kinds of fascinating ideas science fiction should always be striving to achieve, and that’s what makes this film so brilliant.

Bonus Question: Finally, I leave you with one last question. Throughout the film we work on the assumption the scientists realize they can’t change the past. But why does Willis “accidentally” get sent to World War I in such a coincidental way that he ends up in a photo for Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) to see? Is it possible the scientist are manipulating the past to intentionally cause their own present? And if so, why?

64 comments:

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: Well, I'll never be able to enjoy that film again. Until now, I just suspended disbelief and went with it. LOL

CrispyRice said...

You obviously got WAY more out of that movie than I ever did, LOL. Actually, I chalked it up as "boy movie" and haven't ever watched it again since the 1st time.

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, You should give it another chance. Also, I wouldn't say it was a "boy movie" because it's really not an action movie.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, You've got to think about science fiction to enjoy it.

Tennessee Jed said...

In a sense I suffer from the same fate as Crispy in that I have seen most of the movie in parts . . . . BUT NEVER ALL THE WAY THROUGH! It always seemed like there was a lot going on, but seeing it in such a disjointed manner kept me from much understanding of the whole. Oddly, I never went out and rented/purchased it to do so. Maybe there is a subliminal message there. Still, my curiosity HAS been piqued, so I suspect I will now do that.

Ed said...

Andrew, I never cared much for Gilliam either. I know everyone says he's a genius, but I never liked his stuff. This was always a bit of an exception. Now I know why.

Good questions at the end. I'll have to think about those. It's enough to make my mind hurt! Lo!

Do you think the scientists are doing this intentionally? And if so, why do you think so?

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I'm glad to hear it! This is one of those films you can't see in pieces. You need to see the whole thing in its right order to put together what is happening because the film itself is a little disjointed time-wise and there is a lot of subtlety going on that doesn't jump out at you unless you pay careful attention.

I think it's well worth watching. My only hesitation in saying it's great (as I note) is that I have issues with things Gilliam does in his films. I think he harms what would otherwise be great films. I would in fact, love to see a remake of this film by a better director who has a more clear vision of what the film is meant to convey.

TJ said...

Interesting review Andrew. I like Bruce Willis and I love time travel movies - I may have to give this one a look. One question though. Is there any gore? That is the one thing that would keep me from watching it.

I agree with Ed - it sounds like it would make your mind hurt - LOL!

T-Rav said...

You keep reviewing movies I haven't seen. Arrgh. Well, the heck with it, I read this review anyway and I'm gonna comment!

Seriously, this sounds like it's one of the few films to address the time travel paradoxes in a smart way, so I'll add it to my long list of "films I should watch."

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I have real problems with him too.

The paradox stuff is always fascinating and it sets your mind spinning because it really doesn't have an answer. This film in particular has a neat twist on all the paradox issues, though it's not fully highlighted. It's there and it's meant to be picked up, but it's not tossed into your face.

On the scientists...

There is something really strange with him being sent to WWI for such a quick and out-of-place scene. These scientists are too good to make such a weird mistake -- so there must be some purpose in the film.

The obvious purpose is to prove to Kathryn that he's legitimately traveling through time. But that's so coincidental that I can't accept that being included to move the plot.

If you add in that the scientists do seem to be manipulating him right down to where he goes and even some of what he says, it starts to seem intentional.

As to why? There's no way to tell. But maybe something much worse happened if the virus didn't get released? I'm not sure. That's pure speculation. But logic tells me that they want to protect their future for some reason.

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: I do think about science fiction--when I read it. I long ago gave up doing that with the films. Rarely does the author's work get properly translated to the screen. When the film comes directly from a script instead of a book or short story, I give it a lot more room to go wrong. I expect major inconsistencies, and I'm rarely disappointed.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks TJ! I'm a fan of Bruce Willis and time travel films as well!

In terms of making your head spin, the film never actually throws these issues in your face. Instead, the issues I'm talking about here are things that kind of spring forth from the plot. In other words, the plot plays out and it's all there, but they never have a moment where the characters stop and try to force you to think about "what if we do this" or "what if we do that." There is some of that, but it's mainly in passing.

In terms of gore, this is NOT a gory movie, but it is a grimy movie. You never see anyone die from the virus, there are no bodies, and you don't see people getting killed graphically (one or two people get shot, but I don't recall visible blood).

It is grimy in that many of the scenes take place in old abandoned buildings and Willis looks like he needs a shower. Also Willis does get beat up a couple times, so there is some blood on him. But that's all I recall that might be considered "gore."

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, Sorry, send me a list of what you've seen! LOL! Or take the semester off and watch a bunch of movies to catch up! :)

I do recommend this one. It's a bit of an odd film with some odd moments -- the future in particular strikes me as rather Monty-Python-like, but it's a solid film with some solid performances by a then-unknown Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis. It has an interesting plot and once you start to think about the mental twists and turns, it gets really fascinating.

Also, in terms of spoilers, I don't think knowing the ending actually spoils this one. And what I've given you here shouldn't ruin any of the surprises throughout.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I like both formats and don't really see a distinction. Both can convey ideas quite nicely.

Tennessee Jed said...

how about Jonathon Nolan?

Ed said...

Andrew, I'll have to watch it again. I had a sneaking suspicion that the voice he keeps hearing had some meaning, but I could never quite figure out what it's point was. At first, I thought it was just to make him stick with his mission but something struck as wrong with the orders it was giving. Now you have me very curious.

I also didn't thought the WWI scene was strange. I comes in the middle of everything and is so out of place until she sees the photo, but that seemed like a long way to go for a very obvious point. It's also too coincidental. I thought it was just Gilliam being stupid, but maybe it is more?

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: I guess this is one of those rare moments where we have to agree to disagree. Maybe I've just seen too many Heinlein, Dick, Wells, Campbell and Farmer stories go south when brought to the screen.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Do you mean Christopher Nolan (Inception)? He would be a brilliant choice! He deals with this kind of story telling all the time and he's got the perfect tempo to handle this script!

Good call!

Ed said...

I like films and books equally and I don't see any reason why one can't be translated into the other -- they are just different mediums and both can provoke the same kinds of intellectual ideas.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, You've obviously never read Dick! LOL! His ideas are good, but his execution sucks!

Films and books are just different ways to tell stories. They both have strengths and weakenesses and it depends on the person in charge if they turn out good or bad. There's no reason one or the other is inherently superior, especially when it comes to conveying ideas. In fact, if anything, film is the superior medium in many ways because it allows for the addition of music to create a mood and it lets you do a lot of things without having to spell them out. In particular, you can't do things like shock very well in writing, but you can in films.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I agree. Both have their place and both can carry the same story if you do it right.

Doc Whoa said...

I guess I'm in the minority, but I really Gilliam! Please don't ban me!

This was one of his more commercial films in that it's the most like what you would find from other directors. Compare that to something like "Brazil" which you also nicely reviewed.

I was a bit disappointed with the ending, but it is very Gilliam in it's cyncism.

Doc Whoa said...

I completely agree about Dick and some of the others. They are poor writers with decent ideas and many of their ideas have been much better handled as films.

AndrewPrice said...

Doc, Don't worry! I won't ban you! :)

I do enjoy several of his movies and I do recognize the talent the guy has, but I think he sabotages that with his penchant for twisted imagery.

I did indeed review Brazil. It's a fascinating bit of filmmaking.

On the other issue, yeah, Dick is horrible. If I recall correctly, he's a high school drop out who developed a drug habit and his writing really reflects that. He often starts with good idea, but then goes off the rails halfway through his books (which are more short stories actually).

His work has resulted in some incredible films, but few books that I would recommend. (As an aside, I almost reviewed another movie made from one of his books today, but I choose Twelve Monkeys instead).

T-Rav said...

Andrew, I don't really have that option; a grad student's work is never done. Besides, as you say, I have to give my sockpuppets a crash course in foreign affairs first. ;-)

From what I read in your review, my suspicion is that the WWI thing isn't a throwaway; it certainly sounds like the scientists know more about time travel and the past than they're telling Willis' character. I'm also still trying to think through the implications of how they do the paradox thing; it certainly raises a lot of issues surrounding free will, destiny, etc.

T-Rav said...

Also, given your description of Brad Pitt's character, am I wrong in seeing him as an allegory for modern liberalism? ;-)

LawHawkRFD said...

I'm not going to change my mind because of a pile-on. Yes, books/stories can be translated to the screen, but it's rarely well done. Yes, movies and books are different media, so what's the point? I can enjoy a book, and I can enjoy a movie, but I can also not enjoy a movie badly-adapted from a good book/story. Or vice versa, for that matter. As you've said "if they do it right." I'm also willing to concede exceptions. The movie Blade Runner was better, less-convoluted, and less confusing than the original story.

So films vs. books: Yes, there is no reason why they can't be translated into each other. I just wish they'd do it well more often. You can enjoy good films, and you can enjoy good books/stories, but it doesn't necessarily follow that a version of one is as good as the other. That said, it then becomes a matter of personal opinion as to which was the better version.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, Don't forget to teach them Esperanto! LOL!

On the WWI thing. I start with the idea that nothing is in this film on accident -- because Gilliam is a genius (even if I don't like a lot of what he does). The scene appears to be in the film just so that another character will believe that Willis is traveling in time.

BUT, that seems like bad filmmaking. Why include such an obvious coincidental explanation when you don't have to? That's why I think this scene means more than that. I think something else is going on.

Secondly, even if we take it at face value, there's no reason for them to try to get her to help Willis unless they are trying to force him to perform his destiny. They are smart people and must have figured out what Willis does at this point. So the smart thing to do would be to cancel Willis' mission why they still can, or to change the way he performs it. Instead, they go out of their way to make him go through with it exactly the way that causes the future.

That strikes me that they are intentionally causing him to live up to his destiny.

I could be misreading that, but that's how I interpret it.

On the issue destiny versus free will, you've raised a whole new issue there which always goes hand in hand with these kinds of films! Fascinating stuff, isn't it?

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I doubt Pitt is intended to be an allegory for modern liberalism. Gilliam is extremely liberal and would never imply that there is anything wrong with liberalism.... although, interestingly, the things Pitt spouts as insanity are things that leftist bloggers now routinely say about society. I do find that ironic.

Maybe, ultimately, Pitt is an allegory for modern liberalism (though an unintended one). He's a rich kid who uses his position to see himself as better than and apart from society. He wants to tear down the modern world and replace it with something he can't even describe. And ultimately, he's not a serious revolutionary anyways -- he's just a jerkoff.

In other words, he's the Occupy Wall Street crowd.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I guess we have to agree to disagree. A lot of books have been translated to film very well and in many cases much better than the source material.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I missed your earlier comment.

On the voice. Yeah. The voice is an interesting issue. The first time I watched the film, I thought it was just them trying to force him to keep doing his job. Basically, whenever he seems ready to give up or quit, the voice comes along and tells him to keep going and stay on the mission.

But then why push him toward the airport -- where he really doesn't need to go except to get himself killed so that the circle of his life begins.

In other words, once they know where the virus gets released, there's no reason to send him to the airport or to give him the gun. But they do. Why? Because that causes him to see himself get killed, which sets him up for the future. Why do that? If they don't do that, then the future will change. So the only thing I can think is that they want the future to remain the same.

LL said...

I liked Twelve Monkeys.

Part of it was the plot.

Part of it is that I thought (and still think) that Madeline Stow is impossibly hot.

ambisinistral said...

"Is it possible the scientist are manipulating the past to intentionally cause their own present? And if so, why?"

I hate to get back on topic, but one of the interesting things about 12 Monkeys is that it is told from the perspective of James Cole (Willis' character) who is really quite insane. The result is that you're never quite sure exactly what it is your seeing.

To add to the controlling your destiny that the time travel paradoxes orbit, James Cole is a convict. Interesting that a prisoner should be given so much freedom.

It is another thread of the movie and causes much of the tension of the final act is him attempting to bail out of his time travel assignment because the past is so much more preferable than his present.

There is a lot of psychological freight in the recursion of the final reveal. As an adult he is haunted by the site, just before the virus destroys his world, of a man being shot in an airport terminal. The man turns out to be himself, trying to return to those happy days even though he knows they have but a brief period to last before the virus strikes.

James Cole is a wonderfully drawn tragic figure. He's locked in all manner of cages, and he can escape from none of them.

T-Rav said...

Um, what on earth is going on?

ambisinistral said...

Ooops, among other of my usual typos, it should be 'haunted by the sight' instead of 'haunted by the site'

AndrewPrice said...

LL, I've got to agree with you there. She is really beautiful. Plus, she's an excellent actress! :)

AndrewPrice said...

ambisinistral, Excellent thoughts!

It is told from Cole's perspective and he is clearly what they call an "unreliable narrator." So we actually can't trust his version of events -- even if we happen to see them independently. Which actually calls everything we see into question.

To add some evidence to that point, the dream he keeps seeing of the airport keeps changing. That could be evidence that he's unstable and that we can't trust his recollection of events.

I agree about him being a tragic figure and being wonderfully drawn. He is one of the deeper, more interesting characters on film just because there are so many layers to him -- which is rather ironic because on the surface, he's just a man who wants to live happily and nothing more.

On him being a convict... that has always been something that made me wonder. I get why they would send a convict outside to look for animals (as the film starts), but why send him back in time? Why not send people who are at least sane, competent and qualified? My first thought was that it was dangerous, so they sent someone expendable. But that doesn't wash because the scientist and his friend come back too and it seems quite safe. So why him?

It has honestly confused me why they would choose him?

T-Rav said...

Okay, so anyway...

Andrew, you're right, I should have said "unintentional allegory." Heh.

I was reading some time ago about this Russian physicist named Nomikov or something like that, who came up with this Self-Regulating Principle that tried to resolve the grandfather paradox. Basically, it says that something will happen to prevent you from creating said paradox, should you ever go back in time. Take killing your grandfather. Because we have free will, you can TRY to kill him, but it won't work. Shoot at him and your gun will misfire; stab him and the knife will miss all the vital organs; etc etc. So I wonder if there's some kind of similar self-regulating force at work here, preventing a paradox from arising to unravel the universe.

Also, we should consider that while the grandfather paradox is nice as a theoretical what-if, it's not going to happen that often in practice. For one thing, there's the difficulty of actually going back in time, but for another, stopping events from playing out is harder than it seems. Usually there are way too many parts in motion for one man to change history, at least in such a big way as this. It can make for good movies, because they're all about individual heroism, but in reality? Not so much. Michael Crichton's "Timeline" has a better explanation of this, though I think he downplays individual action a bit too much.

darski said...

I watched this movie with my son. he thought it was just fabulous.

All I can remember about it is that it made no sense to me. I found it rather boring so I didn't pay close attention.

To this day, I can't remember how it ended or why it mattered. As I said, my son really got it but his mind works that way :)

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I've heard the self-regulating idea before and it's an interesting take, particularly because it minimizes free will to the point that it all but vanishes. Essentially you its like saying "you will paint a picture of a house, but I'll let you choose the color."

I think the thing to remember is that the grandfather paradox is really just a logic game. It sounds like it would work because each step makes logical sense. BUT that doesn't mean it actually makes sense. More often than not, when you run into this sort of thing, what you have is an error.

For example, it might simply not be possible to go back in time, meaning the grandfather paradox is impossible.

I personally think (to go a bit far afield) that what is more like to happen is that once you go out of time, time can't affect you anymore. Thus, you can change time, but when you come back everything will have changed around you -- except you.

OR

We can explain it by saying that you are actually creating a separate timeline which continues on in another dimension -- there are theories that there are an infinite number of dimensions out there. So you aren't really changing your own past, you are changing someone else's present (someone who appears nearly identical to you). Like going to the evil Spork world and killing their Kirk before he becomes Captain. It will affect them, but it won't affect you.

AndrewPrice said...

darski, People's tastes differ and different people find different things interesting or enjoyable. I'm glad your son liked it though! :)

Tennessee Jed said...

Andrew - yes, that is exactly who I meant. Must have just been a micro-spasm of the mind. ;-)

AndrewPrice said...

That's ok Jed, those happen! In fact, I'm amazed how many typos I make these days. I think the part of my mind that writes well in one take has shut down. :(

In any event, I would LOVE to see Nolan redo 12 Monkeys. I think it would be brilliant! :)

tryanmax said...

I've never seen this movie, but I'm going to watch it now. I'll see if I can locate the original, too. *wink*

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I saw the original about ten years ago and it didn't make much of an impression me.

Let us know what you think!

tryanmax said...

Gah! Netflix is worthless. I'll have to do some work before I can see either. I'll keep ya posted.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, That stinks! I'm not surprised about La jetee, but I am a little surprised about Twelve Monkeys.

I should run my own streaming service for films! Except the government wouldn't like that. ;)

tryanmax said...

You're already running a streaming service for intelligence. You wouldn't want to dilute that.

AndrewPrice said...

LOL! "From our brains to yours."

** download speed may vary

T-Rav said...

Andrew, the parallel universe idea is something I find really interesting, especially the part of it which says every time we make a decision, we create a new universe. Theoretically, this is true even if the choice is as mundane as ordering tea rather than coffee for lunch. Of course, this doesn't mean they'll be similar in every other respect. I saw a show once playing with this idea, where a girl knocked a drink on her shirt at breakfast in one universe, causing her to be late for school and thus have a really bad day and then hang around with some of the "grunge" kids, eventually turning into a harder, quasi-criminal version of herself. She didn't ever knock the drink over in the other universe, so she stayed a sweet, goody-good person there.

I find this theory a bit more plausible than the other suggestion. In most cases, it would work--you could change something and then return to a different version of the present. But what if you do kill your grandfather? Would you be erased from existence and the present continue on its merry way without you? Or could you still exist, but return to a present where no one has any knowledge or memory of you?

Of course, this is all a bit academic as practically every serious scientist has said there is no way for us to go back in time. But oh well. It's still cool to think about.

Koshcat said...

I really liked 12 Monkeys. I also liked Brazil but those ar the only two Gillium movies I have seen. What I also liked was Brad Pitt. He played that role perfectly. It is roles like that which make me respect him as an actor.

I had forgotten the idea that you can't always trust the narrator, especially one who is unstable. Hard to know if Willis is really insane. He has trouble telling what is future and past but who wouldn't be disoriented. He also knows right from wrong. He can be violent when protecting himself or the girl but gentle mostly with other people. How bad could the future be that eating a bug to bring back seemed like a good idea.

I also liked that we really or I didn't really understand entail is was incarcerated. He seemed to be up for a serious punishment such as death. This motivates him to succeed. What did he do that was so bad.

Koshcat said...

I seemed to be unable to use a ?. I was also trying to say why was Willis incarcerated. I blame the iPad.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, That's what I like about science fiction -- that it raises these kinds of issues and lets you ponder all kinds of interesting possibilities. I love that!

I haven't seen the film you're talking about, but it sounds interesting. Did you ever see Run Lola, Run? It's a German movie with a sort of similar premise -- multiple possible realities.... though it's not science fiction, it's just a story telling gimmick.

I have heard the idea that every decision we make creates another universe, but I honestly have a serious problem with that. It doesn't make sense to me because (1) I can't conceive of the number of things that would qualify as decisions (and would they be conscious decisions or decisions down at the atomic level or both?) and (2) I don't understand why the universe would arrange itself according to the decisions of individual humans. It sounds neat, but I don't buy it -- though I know some physicists do.

That said, I agree with you that this is the most plausible explanation for the grandfather paradox though.

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, I don't think he's insane either. I think he's borderline and he loses touch with reality at times, but ultimately, I think he's normal but confused.

On his being a convict, you get the feeling he did something very bad (probably murder because he does seem quite capable of extreme violence) but they never do explain it or give you any real sense what the future is really like. In fact, what's interesting is that the future seems dark and dungeon-like, but for all we know everything outside his prison area is pretty nice. In fact, if you think about it, they have all the assets of the world to choose from, so they should be able to live in pretty good luxury.

On Gilliam, Brazil is a fascinating film, especially its history and when you can compare the Gilliam version with the horrible studio version. His other films are things like Time Bandits and Baron von Munchhausen, which are interesting concepts, but just rub me the wrong, wrong way.

T-Rav said...

Andrew, I'm not sure I believe in the idea myself, either, it's just an interesting concept. I think most physicists would probably limit it to humans (or sentient beings in general) because it would seem to rest on some kind of choice. But I can't say for certain.

I haven't seen "Run, Lola, Run," though I have heard of it. It wasn't actually a movie I was referring to, it was a TV show on Disney a long time ago, that I watched when I was a kid. This would be back when Disney still had some quality programming.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, It is an interesting concept. In terms of the physics, I know that it's very reputable now to believe in multiple dimensions. I won't pretend to know the physics, but I like the theory as a story-telling device.

I don't think I've seen the show you're talking about.

Run Lola is an interesting film, but you probably have to like foreign films to enjoy it. It stars Franka Potente, who went on to star in films like the Bourne series.

ambisinistral said...

Like much in the film the convict business operates on several levels.

We never know his crime, but on the first level it just means he can't control his own situation anymore than he can control the past.

Where it gets weird is that at first we think his time traveling is rather unique, but as the film progresses we discover that there are other convict time travelers, then in the mall scene we discover there are cop time travelers to keep the convicts on task, and by the end we discover even the head scientist time travels.

What the heck were the future folk doing when they constructed such a Rube Goldberg contraption when they went to the past?

It is one thing that works in the film -- whatever sits outside of Cole's knowledge eludes the audience too. There is something structured going on, but exactly what? Who knows. It makes you turn the story over and keep looking at it from different angles.

AndrewPrice said...

ambisinistral, Rube Goldberg is a great way to put it!

They really have put together a truly strange set up for the time traveling. We usually think of one person going back and maybe someone following them, but here you have all kinds of people (and we can assume there are more we never see). You can almost picture a vast network of people living in the past.

And you're right, we only get glimpses of the organization itself whenever Cole runs across them. So we don't really understand it at all -- though we think we do, which is what make it so interesting to try to figure out this movie!

On the Rube Goldberg point, this raises the question -- why send convicts and why send people to make them stay on mission... why not just send a dedicated individual in the first place?

Presumably, what they are doing is so important that they should have sent someone smart and dedicated. Why risk everything on a possibly insane convict?

On the one hand, the answer is: that's just how Terry Gilliam does things. But on the other hand, maybe they need people for certain expendable jobs? So they send convicts for those jobs? But if that's so, then what are they really doing? Are they causing the future? Are they experimenting on the past? I would love to see a sequel that laid this out.

mycrofth4 said...

It's been awhile since I've seen 12 Monkeys, but wouldn't the scientists that sent Willis back already have known that he would be killed in a shootout at the airport? After all, Willis remembers it even though he doesn't know it was his future self. Perhaps the scientists sent ex-con Willis because they knew he was killed at the airport right before the virus was released, thus avoiding a paradox?

AndrewPrice said...

mycroft, I think they definitely know Willis will be killed. In fact, it strikes me that they cause it -- and they seem to cause it pointlessly except to start the young Willis on the wrong path.

I'm just not sure why they would do that? Why send him at all when they could presumably pick someone with better judgment? The whole thing remains a bit of a mystery.

ScottDS said...

I caught a few spare minutes... :-)

I watched this film years ago and I honestly don't remember much, except that it seemed to make sense to me at the time but I think I was just too young to really appreciate it and it simply appealed to me on a surface level (cool visuals and what not). I totally forgot David Morse was in this till I read his name in your article!

I do remember the extensive making-of documentary on the DVD: The Hamster Factor, named after an incident in which Gilliam took an entire day to film one shot because he didn't like what a hamster - seen in the extreme background - was doing.

As for Gilliam, I really want to like his movies more than I do. I love Brazil but, with the possible exception of Munchausen - which I feel is entertaining, despite its flaws and insane production problems - his other films leave me unsatisfied. Would you believe J.K. Rowling wanted him to direct the first Harry Potter film?

And this movie is why I'll always defend Brad Pitt - he's one of the few leading men we have who's still willing to go crazy for movie roles (I imagine some actors would never risk making themselves look foolish).

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I'm glad you could take a break!

I feel the same way about Gilliam. I want to like his stuff so much more than I do. I'd heard that about the hamster. I've also seen how more than one of his films have fallen apart because of production problems.

I didn't know Rowling wanted him to direct Potter, but that probably would have been a disaster for the franchise.

I like Morse a lot and wish he were in more films. I have a lot of goodwill for him.

Pitt impressed the heck out of me in this film (and in Fight Club) and it convinced me that he really is a top notch actor. Not only is he hard not to like, but he's very good at the craft too.

EricP said...

To each their own on Time Bandits, which I love, but howsabout The Fisher King, his most mainstream movie? Some of the best acting work from all involved and a deserving Oscar for Ruehl.

AndrewPrice said...

Eric, Yeah, that's probably his other most commercial film. Not coincidentally, he didn't write that one either. That one was written by Richard LaGravenese, and Gilliam said that he actually intended to just shoot the script rather than "make a Terry Gilliam film."

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