The always fascinating Jedi Jawa joined us for the show this week, to talk about his love for "Twelve Monkeys". But that wasn't always the plan... as soon as we announced the movie, ol 'Double Jay' sent us a lengthy email about the movie. We thought it would do his appearance even more justice to show you what he wrote to us, and his unique take on the movie:
"12 Monkeys" was a brilliant movie and Terry Gilliam is a brilliant director in how he set it up. It's very easy to look at "12 Monkeys" as a time travel movie ... but have you ever tried looking at it from Cole's eyes (something that is emphasized quite a bit in the film)? I mean, the film that inspired "12 Monkeys" ("La Jetee") is a time travel film ... but what if "12 Monkeys" wasn't?
Look at Cole. When he first "jumps" in time he is believed to be a paranoid schizophrenic by the past doctors. And who says that he's not? Look at the way that Gilliam set up the scenes and think about them from the eyes of a hallucinating paranoid schizophrenic. I find this easier to do now that I work with so many clients with that affliction and it is striking. Cole goes through the whole movie thinking people are after him and seeing impossible things when he walks through New York ... but what's to say that the things he is seeing are real. He also has a disembodied voice who talks to him through the film and tells him to do things like to pull his teeth out ... we call those "command hallucinations" and schizophrenics hear so many voices that you can just watch them having an internal conversation sometimes while they feel protective about telling you anything about it ... just like Cole. Think too about how fixated that Cole is on certain ideas and principles ... that is another example of a paranoid schizophrenic. The fractured nature of the mind when it is set upon with that condition is evident in the way that the film jumps around and seemingly has continuity errors. They make no sense from the perspective of a 3rd person ... but if you are in Cole's perspective they are just part of his world and people do disappear and you can see yourself in an old photograph. The Cassandra Complex is a huge theme in the film and the scene that really tied that together for me was when Cole sees the street preacher ranting and raving about the future apocalypse ... much like Cole ... except maybe Cole has seen the future and is Cassandra.
Ok, I have to admit I once read an interview where Gilliam said that he intentionally filmed "12 Monkeys" to be taken from both a schizophrenic and a time travelers perspective ... but every time I watch the film I see those aspects now.
The time travel aspect of the film is brilliant. Presumably the thing that keeps Cole so grounded and allows him to remember what happens between the times is the fact that he witnessed his own death as a child ... Cole says he can remember things when other subjects can't and I have to believe that is why ... that it grounds him somehow. I love too the message that you can't really change the past but you can shape it. The scientists aren't trying to prevent the release of the virus (I think that Jose ... like Cole ... is acting on his own when he hands him that old gun that he probably picked up in the past). Rather the scientists are trying to get a sample before it mutates and are using their subjects to zero in on that time (I love how time travel is so inexact ... just as it would be if we trusted AT&T to do it ... fewest dropped time jumps of any network). Thus, while Cole thinks that he can prevent the release of the virus that isn't the goal of his handlers ... perhaps because of a paradox issue that is never discussed in the film but always exists in the back of the mind for any time traveler movie. Hence Cole's actions lead to his own death ... the very thing that makes him such a good time traveler? And we seemingly see confirmation of Cole's success by seeing one of the future scientists make it through time to the point they have been trying to target so that the virus can be studied ... meaning that the scientist is also sacrificing herself much like they sacrificed Cole.
This is certainly a film that needs repeated viewings and I think that I've managed to nail down most of the odd stuff that happens to tie it to a time line. One scene that I still find odd is when Cole disappears and we hear the radio saying that they found the body of his past doctor (Kathryn) strangled and mutilated in a trunk. Was this a red herring or an alternate time line? I'm sure that someone can come up with an explanation but I haven't. As for Brad Pitt's character ... as much as I admire Bruce Willis and his ability to play Cole as a half crazed time traveler ... Brad Pitt just steals the show ... and I think that he's mostly a "MacGuffin" or a plot element that keeps the focus of the attention of the audience to distract them from other things or to keep their interest ... in the end his plot line is also a red herring. This was a common element of Hitchcock films which feature prominently in "12 Monkeys".