Look, I see you, ok?
You’re making bread and posting about your awesome sourdough starter on social media; you’re buying face masks with cool designs; and you’re ironically watching Contagion (2011), Outbreak (1995), and The Stand miniseries (1994). You know, just to scare the shit out of yourself if you weren’t scared enough already.
I get it. And I would be lying if I said I hadn’t been doing the same thing.
Well, I’m not doing the bread stuff. That’s just dumb. You can buy artisan bread at the grocery store. Or order it for delivery online so you can socially distance as much as possible like a responsible human being.
And why did a global pandemic suddenly inspire you to bake? Read a book. Write something. Do some art. Work out. Support a local business. Protest for Black Lives Matter. Convince your evil aunt not to vote for Trump. How is she even voting for Trump anyway? Like, did she ignore everything that’s happened over the last three years? Does she not understand that he’s just Greg Stillson from The Dead Zone (1983) and Mayor Larry Vaughn from Jaws (1975) rolled up into a walking and talking Nacho Cheese Dorito?! And had she even heard about ANTIFA prior to 2020?!?! GTFO.
But I digress.
I’m here to talk about another movie that you can ironically watch during the pandemic . . . that’s also about a pandemic.
That’s right, I’m talking about Terry Gilliam’s wildly imaginative science fiction thriller, Twelve Monkeys (1995).
Now, most folks probably remember it best for being a movie about time travel, bizarre performances from Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt, seamless scenic design, and constant Dutch angles. But it’s mostly a movie about the subjective nature of memories set against the backdrop of a pandemic.
That probably sounds like highfalutin mumbo jumbo, but I swear: it’s a lot of fun! It’s a noir, in the vein of Bladerunner (1982)—the same writer, David Peoples, pinned the script along with his wife Janet for this film, actually—that’s an edge-of-your-seat whodunit from moment one.
In Twelve Monkeys, set in 2035, prisoner James Cole (Bruce Willis) has been selected by a team of bureaucratic scientists to travel back in time to 1996. Once there, his mission is to find out who released the virus that killed over 5 billion people, decimating the planet. They suspect it was an organization called The Army of the Twelve Monkeys, but their evidence has been degraded by time. Were they the ones responsible? Or was it someone else?
Along the way, he meets the psychiatrist with a heart, Dr. Kathyrn Railly (Madeleine Stowe), and Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt, in an over-the-top, tour de force performance), a mental patient with extreme environmentalist and anti-capitalist views.
Oh, and there’s a bunch of man butt throughout the movie from both Pitt and Willis, if that’s your thing.
And, surprisingly, Willis has the better butt.
I know; I was as shocked as you.
They have a word in France for his butt: bootylicious.
It’s the same in English too.
“Cole has been thrust from another world into ours,” said director Terry Gilliam when the film was released in 1995. “And he’s confronted by the confusion we live in, which most people somehow accept as normal. So he appears abnormal, and what’s happening around him seems random and weird. Is he mad or are we?”
Gilliam, best known for his similarly dystopian science fiction film Brazil (1985), is firing on all cylinders in Twelve Monkeys. His shot compositions make full use of the beautiful design work and numerous extras; scenes are edited to be lean-and-mean; and the performances he elicits are stunning. They’re unapologetically strange and aren’t necessarily aiming at realism. This is a surrealist world with surrealist people living in it and the performances follow suit. In fact, Pitt won a Golden Globe for the role and was nominated for an Academy Award (not that you should care about that kind of malarkey).
Twelve Monkeys pulls heavily from Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), and many of its central themes are enhanced by a familiarity with it. I’m not saying that you need to have seen Vertigo to enjoy Twelve Monkeys, but it deepens the experience and adds additional layers to the material.
If you’ve never seen Twelve Monkeys, I think it’s well-worth a viewing. For modern audiences, however, it may lag in the third act since you can probably figure out where it’s all going, but it’s still worth the journey.
And, hey, what else are you doing right now?
Stop. Making. Bread.