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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

'12 Monkeys': An Arresting and Highly Imaginative Post-Apocalyptic Time Travel Thriller

Movie poster for the film 12 Monkeys starring Bruce Willis and Madeleine Stowe

12 Monkeys (1995) is a bold and strikingly imaginative science-fiction thriller starring Bruce Willis as James Cole, a prisoner in the year 2035—a time of post-apocalyptic decay after a deadly virus has annihilated most of humanity. Recruited by a shadowy government tribunal, Cole is assigned the daunting mission of traveling backward in time to the year 1996, in order to thwart the release of the virus by a renegade faction known as the "Army of the Twelve Monkeys".

Inadvertently delivered to the year 1990, 6 years earlier than intended, Cole is arrested and committed to a Baltimore mental hospital where he comes under the care of Dr. Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe). Desperate in his attempts to explain his predicament, Cole is assumed to be mentally ill and assigned to the hospital's general ward—where he encounters Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt), an unstable mental patient who repeatedly espouses fanatical theories about environmentalism. With Goines' association serving to be highly monumental, Cole set off on a race-against-time to escape his confines, obstruct the release of the deadly pathogen and save the lives of billions.

Adapted from Chris Marker's 1962 French film La Jetée by screenwriters David and Janet Peoples, and directed by Terry Gilliam (Brazil, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), 12 Monkeys is an intelligent and thoughtful take on science-fiction adventurism. Gilliam brings his trademark hallucinatory stylings to the screen within the confines of a concise storyline, and the balance works perfectly in delivering a taut and exciting tale of cerebral escapism.


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