**Only one tiny mention of plot action which I don’t think even qualifies as a spoiler. But just in case, you may shield your eyes if you wish**
This evening, the Coolidge Corner Theatre held a screening of the film 12 Monkeys. I had heard of the movie before, but never seen it: starring Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt, and Madeleine Stowe, the movie follows Willis as James Cole, convict from the future fighting for a pardon, who has been sent back in time to try to uncover the origins of the most deadly virus the world has ever seen, which off-ed 5 billion people in a global epidemic in 1997.
I enjoyed the movie. It was certainly more artful than most apocalyptic movies of our time: unlike movies which would come out a decade later (some still entertaining, others cinematic plagues themselves), 12 Monkeys (1995) seems more creative in asserting uncertain feelings of dread in light of the world’s oncoming demise, wrapped as it is with the increasingly convoluted mystery of whether or not Cole can trust the situation he is in, the things he witnesses, or his own sense of reality.
Despite trying to focus on the plot, something about the setting left me unsatisfied. It seemed more dated than its actual period (ranging from 1990 to 1997); something about people’s hairstyles and clothes, even the way they spoke, struck me as perhaps more 80s than 90s (although you can only take my word for it on the basis that I was not alive for most of the 80s, but actually remember parts of the 90s). A small detail, but one that reminded me of similarly unconvincing details in some of the lines and plots.
For one thing, I thought they could have placed just a bit more emphasis on why Cole was chosen for this mission. He states it’s due to his ability to remember things well, but considering he doesn’t exactly have eidetic memory, that seemed a bit weak. I also felt the movie was losing a bit of its momentum around the time when they visit the department store: the phone call that follows, however, clears that right up.
On a positive note, I sense the movie is not exactly a thriller: the film’s director, Terry Gilliam, has been quoted as saying that he’s “not drawn to straightforward stories, but to more complex ones…[12 Monkeys is] not your typical Hollywood film, and will demand something of the audience”. I greatly enjoyed Cole’s growing relationship with Railly, the overall pace of revelations in the movie was confident, and Brad Pitt as a mentally disturbed politician’s son (apparently CONSTANTLY high on cocaine, but who is actually just what we trained psychologist like to call “run-of-the-mill koo-koo”), is phenomenal.
Best of all, however (at least as far as I was concerned), was that the film was preceded by a mini-presentation by renowned evolutionary scientist Carl Zimmer. His expertise in parasitism made for a fun pre-movie summary on why we as humans have proven ourselves both greatly adept at combating dangerous viruses (such as in the case of smallpox), and yet still horribly helpless in our ignorance of how yet other viruses continue to ravage us as a species (SARS and HIV, to name just two).
I’m not too ashamed to admit I grew bashful to a way higher degree than is my wont. You KNOW you’re a huge nerd when you get so worked up over asking a scientist for his autograph. But right before the film began, I shuffled over to him, stammered my question as to whether he was in fact Carl Zimmer, shook the surprised man’s hand, and asked for an autograph. He very graciously gave me one, and thanked me for coming to see the film. I mumbled something inane and appreciative before scuttling back to my seat, flushed with victory.
All in all, a good evening for the combo of cinema and science appreciation.