I have vivid memories of Brad Pitt’s insane rants as Jeffery Goines from when I was a child. I’d never watched all of 12 Monkeys, but when I was about 8-years-old my brother loved it. This was one of the few movies he exposed me to at a very young age (and although I couldn’t contextualize the subject matter, so no harm was done, he got in some serious shit for it.) I wish I hadn’t waited quite so long to watch it in full for the first time, but I am very satisfied now that I’ve seen it.
So much of the way this was shot screams Terry Gilliam: from the angles, to the playful camera movements, and the twisted surroundings. Everything is intricate, nothing is simple, and next to nothing is ordinary.
Much of what I found interesting about the film is the notion of destiny. Gilliam’s visual approach to the subject matter is intricate, and detailed, seemingly to emphasize the inescapable nature of fate. According to (what else?) the IMDB Trivia Page on 12 Monkeys, Gilliam had a number of deliberate “bookends” of sorts throughout the film.
For instance, the film starts with a shot of young Cole’s eyes, and ends with the same. When he finds himself being forcefully decontaminated in the showers in the future, he is watched over by an African American and a Caucasian security guard. In the past, when he’s being washed down in the asylum, he’s watched over by two men of the same race. Their physical statures (one large and stocky, the other relatively slim by comparison) are swapped across the timeline.
Beyond these parallels between the future and the past, there are other factors that suggest a very deliberate symmetry. It’s as if they serve to balance the actions of the past with those of the future. It seems to me to be indicative of Gilliam’s deliberate attempt to illustrate the inescapable nature of our own personal timelines, our pasts and futures as individuals and as a species.
It’s commonly said that history is destined to repeat itself, and this seems to be a film that plays on that premise relentlessly, and successfully. These key visual elements throughout the film serve as markers across time to indicate the inescapable nature of destiny, how we are doomed to repeat our mistakes, living out our lives and the lives of generations to come on an infinite loop.
Needless to say, I loved it. I wish I hadn’t been quite as sleepy as I was when I watched it, but I loved it. It’s twisted and dirty in all the right ways, with subtle little winks to cinema in the background (like with Madeline Stowe’s blonde wig at the Hitchcock Theater, and the use of a very significant moment in Vertigo), which I can never get enough of. What can I say? Intertextuality gets me off.
Movies like this are what get me excited to keep pushing through my enormous lists: they’re absorbing, enthralling, and good to the last frame.
This post was originally published on my tumblr on December 14, 2011.