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Travelling Back in Time to Contain a Virus, Twelve Monkeys

During the exam period, thoughts like “I should’ve taken lectures on time,” and “I want to take the exam again after checking the answers” might come to you. With such thoughts, you might be eager to have the ability to time travel or to have a time machine. Or have you ever thought of being someone who is able to contain the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) by going back to the past? If you have had any of these thoughts, this movie will sound attractive to you. Today, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) will introduce the time-traveling movie, Twelve Monkeys.

Introduction to Twelve Monkeys

About Twelve Monkeys

Twelve Monkeys is an American science fiction movie made in 1996. The movie’s subject is based on time-traveling, and it can also be classified as a post-apocalypse movie describing a world after its destruction. Twelve Monkeys is inspired by the short film La Jetée that was made in 1962. Both movies share the same basic settings: A man living in a world where people live underground due to disaster is trying to change the destroyed future with a time travel machine, and he falls in love with a woman living in the past. The director of Twelve Monkeys is Terry Gilliam, who is well known for making post-modernist movies.

A Poster of Twelve Monkeys (filmposter-archiv.de)

Movie Plot *Spoiler Alert*

The setting of the movie is 2035 when all people are living underground. It is because of a deadly dangerous virus released in 1996 that killed the majority of people and forced survivors to live underground. James Cole is a prisoner who has a perfect memory, and it is this ability that leads him to be selected to search above ground. After he successfully carried out the mission, he is assigned to go back to the past to find the original virus and get information about an organization named “Twelve Monkeys”, which is assumed to have spread the virus. However, he arrives in 1990, not 1996 as planned. He is admitted to a psychiatric hospital. He shouts about what would happen in the future and what the Twelve Monkeys would do to Dr. Kathryn and Jeffrey Goines. Jeffrey Goines, a patient in the hospital, shows interest in James’s assertion. Suddenly, scientists send James to 1996 and give him a new mission to get information about Jeffrey because Jeffrey is assumed to be the head of the Twelve Monkeys. James finds out that Jeffrey is actually the leader of the Twelve Monkeys and is going to spread the virus; but in fact, the virus was made by Jeffrey’s father, a prominent virus researcher. James tries to stop Jeffrey but only reveals the truth that the Twelve Monkeys was just an innocent organization for animal rights; even the association is inspired by the assertion of James that Jeffrey hears in hospital in 1990. The real culprit who spreads the virus is the assistant of Jeffrey’s father. James tries to put a restraint on the assistant, but he finally fails to head the assistant off and is shot at the airport.

Scientists in 2035 (American Cinematographer)

Impressive Points of the Movie

Outstanding Performance

The two actors, Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt showed outstanding performances in the movie. James Cole, played by Bruce Willis, is drugged to relax him in the hospital when he is first sent back to 1990. In this scene, he is drooling and lolling about like he had been drugged in reality. The insane performance of Brad Pitt got high praise, and he won the 53rd Golden Globe Best Supporting Actor for his performance. Brad Pitt, who played Jeffrey Goines, said he spent several weeks in a psychiatric hospital to study more deeply into being a psychopathic patient. In 1990, Jeffrey Goines was a psychiatric patient, but in 1996, Jeffrey becomes a famous freak with his father on his back, who is a Nobel Laureate authority on viruses. Brad Pitt shows Jeffrey’s difference between the two eras through a three dimensional performance.

James & Jefferey (ascmag.com)

Repeating Images Between Past and Future

Similar images between the past and the future appear throughout the film. James encounters a living bear when he was searching above ground in 2035, and it corresponds with a stuffed bear in the past. Also, a time machine and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine in a hospital makes a pair. This makes the borders between the past and the future blurry. As the movie progresses, James is in a state of confusion that everything in the future was just a delusion. Blurred boundaries of the future and past make the audience empathize with James’ feelings. Also, the same place made by a comparison between the past and the future shows how the ground is devastated in 2035.

A Time Machine and Scientists (ascmag.com)

Implication of the Ending

The movie starts with an old dream of James that implicates the ending. The dream goes from the point of view of little James: One man who is chasing another man is tailed by police. The man fails to catch the other man because he is shot down by police officers. Even though James dismisses this dream as a nightmare, the ending of the movie reveals that it is a future that young James has witnessed. In addition, James is sent to the past to stop the Twelve Monkeys, but in fact, the organization itself was inspired by what James said in 1990. These things imply that changing the future by modifying the past is impossible and that all the efforts James took were just meaningless.

(cinemastance.com)



Even though this movie was made in 1996, it shows high completeness based on outstanding imagination. Maybe, considering at this juncture, who would know that a person might already have made an effort to stop the COVID-19 as James did, but have failed to change the past because of prescribed fate?

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