Terry Gilliam's films, both for their sense of humor and their creativity. From the classic days of Monty Python and The Holy Grail to some of my all time favorites like Brazil and Time Bandits. These were comedies that Gilliam wrote himself. In later years he decided direct some notable films with a more serious tone like The Fisher King and 12 Monkeys, both of which were written by others but to which he applied his unmistakably original directing style. In the case of 12 Monkeys, we have a brilliantly written science fiction story by a veteran screenplay writer named David Webb Peoples, who also co-wrote the screenplay for Blade Runner. Add to that some great performances by Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt, and you have a great film, one that also sits in my collection.
The film presents several mysteries that keep you guessing via misdirection. First, we are misled about the cause of the catastrophe until the very end of the film. Second, Cole becomes confused about whether his future life is real or not and whether he is sane or delusional, and we the audience are provided clues that go both ways. The main directorial tool in this respect is analogy and similarity. The are many similarities between past and future, and many coincidental re-occurrences that make us wonder if Cole is actually making things up in his own head. For example, advertisements about the Florida Keys pop up in odd places as a suggestion of where they will ultimately plan their final escape. Cole hears a news story about boy caught in a well and correctly predicts that the boy is actually playing a prank and hiding because he saw the story as a kid. When he is confronted about it later he states that it could have been another story or that the kid may have seen the same thing and copied it. And then there is the constant thread of references that Gilliam includes throughout the film, like the numerous incidental TV programs that happen to be talking about time travel, or the ever-present monkey theme, as when a monkey is lowered into the well as way of reaching the supposedly trapped kid. These are not part of the story line but keep appearing throughout the film and give it continuity.
Finally, I do like the main musical theme. It makes heavy use of dissonance and off beat rhythms to parallel the film's own assortment of double meaning. And it is actually played on accordian, the instrument of choice for street monkey vendors, and gives it a slightly humorous overtone. You can hear it below:
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