Response paper on Film 12 Monkeys - Essay Example

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The movie, ‘12 monkeys’ by Terry Gilliam, inspired by Chris Markers La Jetee, with Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt and Madeleine Stowe playing the main characters, has a very complex theme which revolves around the scientific fantasy of time-travel. The theme is generated from the…
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Response paper on Film 12 Monkeys
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Response Paper on ‘12 Monkeys’ The movie, ‘12 monkeys’ by Terry Gilliam, inspired by Chris Markers La Jetee, with Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt and Madeleine Stowe playing the main characters, has a very complex theme which revolves around the scientific fantasy of time-travel. The theme is generated from the future and most of it staged in the present, which is the present and past respectively, for the main character. It is a jumble of the past, the present and the future.
The story takes place in the year of 2035, when earth has become uninhabitable for humans. A particular virus has annihilated 99% of the humanity in the year of 1996. The few survivors are left to live in tunnels underground. The earth is inhabited only by animals and insects which fearlessly wander the planet which is now free of humans. The virus which succeeded in wiping out such a big portion of mankind, apparently, didn’t have any effect on any other forms of life on earth.
The main character, a prisoner called James Cole, is about to be sent back in time, to the year of 1996, to get a pure specimen of the virus to make it possible for the scientists of his present, to study the virus and discover a way of reversing the damages caused by it and eradicating it, to make the earth suitable for humans to live in.
In the first attempt to travel back to 1996, Cole accidentally ends up in the year of 1990. He gets imprisoned and sent to a mental asylum when he tries to convince those around him that he has come from the future. There he is taken over by psychiatrist, Dr. Kathryn Railly. The people who belong to the present of 1996 are convinced that this man who claims to have come from the future, who believes that a certain virus is going to kill 5 billion people in 1996, is indeed insane. Apart from Dr. Railly nobody is even willing to hear him out. Even though Dr. Railly feels a strange and unexplainable attraction towards Cole, even she is convinced that he is just delusional and whatever he believes to be his reality is just a ‘meticulously constructed fantasy’ of his mind.
Cole keeps having recurring dreams of a man being shot dead at an airport and that of a woman running towards the dying man. He sees it through the eyes of a child who is present at the place where the incident takes place. This dream is the link that connects the central theme of the past, the present and the future. The child’s striking resemblance to Cole makes sense only towards the end of the movie.
Another inmate of the asylum, Jeffrey Goines, son of a renowned virologist, provides Cole with some vital clues. Cole gathers that what he should be looking for is a group named, ‘The army of twelve monkeys’ who would be the ones to release the deadly virus soon. He is recalled from the mental asylum, back to his present by those who had sent him to the past and they are surprised to learn that he had ended up in the year of 1990.
The second attempt lands him in the year of 1996 successfully. There he finds Dr. Railly and kidnaps her. Even though Dr. Railly gets many chances to escape the confused and unfocused Cole, she fails to do so due to a strange bond she experiences with him. She is forced to follow him to places where he expects to find clues to the mysterious ‘army of twelve monkeys’.
As the story moves on, Dr. Railly starts believing in Cole. But by then he has started considering that he is indeed insane. He expresses his belief that Dr. Railly is the only one who can treat him and cure him. He no more shows any interest in convincing anyone about his reality. He even extracts the tooth which he believes to contain the tracking device, which could give him away to those who had sent him there.
Throughout the time he is in his past, James Cole is disoriented and confused. He is never able to focus on anything. He has not forgotten his task but keeps getting distracted. Due to the complications inflicted by time-travel, Cole does not manage to accomplish the task of getting a pure specimen of the virus. The movie ends with Cole being shot dead in front of his childhood self, by the man who is actually carrying the deadly virus, with Dr. Railly running towards him as he falls, which explains his recurring dream.
The theme which originates in a grim future slowly develops through the hope spawned by the possibilities held by the present. Even though all hopes are shattered towards the end, when Cole dies while attempting to get hold of the virus, the plot manages to hold together till the very end of the movie.
From the beginning of the movie till the end, we see Cole failing continuously in his mission due to various reasons. The first time it is because he ends up in the wrong period of time. There is also the fact that nobody would even consider the possibility of someone time travelling, let alone believe someone who seems totally confused and lost. We understand that Cole’s perpetrators were aware of the risks as we hear one of them tell him that it is difficult for human brain to gain focus when he has been pushed back in time. It is evident that the confusion reaches the level of insanity where one moment Cole is sure that he is insane and the next moment he extracts the tooth which is supposed to hold the tracking device.
All these facts put together, the movie upholds a theme which considers the dangers and complications of meddling with time. It throws light on the difficulty of jelling into a certain period which you don’t actually belong to. It also digresses off, in the beginning of the movie, to indirectly point out the possibility that some day mankind will perish in the hands of its own wisdom and inventions, giving the earth back to those beings which had inhabited it before man. It projects the fact that humans are much more at risk of being eradicated from the face of earth, than animals.
The central theme of the story is quite traditional within the limits of a science fiction movie. Time-travel is a theme that has been used more than once before ’12 monkeys’. But the narration style is quite unconventional. The main character of Cole keeps getting shifted unexpectedly and rather suddenly from his present to his past and vice versa, without leaving the audience time, to digest the new scenario. It is also quite a non-traditional approach, to fix the base of a story in a post-apocalyptic world and connect it to the past with a mission, not of changing the past, but of improving the future.
Audience is held by the complexity of the theme which is full of twists and turns. Even though the theme is strictly of a serious and grim nature, it also contains an intense emotional undercurrent, which lies in the mysterious connection between Cole and Dr. Railly, easing the stress caused by the rather depressing and frustratingly confusing theme. It also successfully conveys the point that nothing can be taken from or changed about the past, even if you manage to travel back in time. Read More
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