Film and Plot Synopsis
“12 Monkeys” is a science fiction film directed by Terry Gilliam, released in 1995. The movie, inspired by Chris Marker’s 1962 short film “La Jetée,” weaves a complex narrative of time travel, madness, and the blurred lines between reality and perception. Starring Bruce Willis as James Cole, Madeleine Stowe as Dr. Kathryn Railly, and Brad Pitt as Jeffrey Goines, the film takes the audience on a mind-bending journey through different timelines and explores themes of fate, free will, and the consequences of human actions.
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’12 Monkeys’ Movie Summary
Cole’s first attempt at time travel doesn’t go as planned, and he is mistakenly sent to 1990 instead of the intended destination of 1996. Convinced that he can gather crucial information in the past, Cole’s interactions with the authorities lead to his institutionalization in a mental hospital. Here, he meets Dr. Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe), a psychiatrist who becomes intrigued by Cole’s seemingly delusional claims about time travel and the impending viral outbreak. While in the mental institution, Cole also encounters Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt), a charismatic and eccentric patient. Goines is the son of a prominent virologist, Dr. Leland Goines (Christopher Plummer). Cole attempts to escape from the facility and is ultimately recaptured. However, he mysteriously disappears from his locked cell a short time later.
Cole returns to 2035 and informs the group that they sent him back to early. They reluctantly send him back a second time. However, Cole ends up naked in the middle of a battle in World War I. There he encounters another convict who was sent back to the wrong time as well, Jose (Jon Seda). Cole is shot in the leg and photographed with an injured Jose before he is pulled back to 1996. At that time, Railly is giving a lecture to some of her colleagues. After the presentation, Cole abducts her to assist in his investigation. Railly helps Cole by taking the bullet out of his leg.
As Cole attempts to unravel the mystery of the Army of the Twelve Monkeys, he discovers that Goines is associated with the group, further deepening the intrigue surrounding the impending apocalypse. Cole and Railly travel to Goines’ father’s house to confront the madman. Cole confronts Goines, and Goines denies any involvement with the group and says that in 1990 Cole originated the idea of wiping out humanity with a virus stolen from Goines’s virologist father. Goines then has Cole kicked out of the house. The police are called, but Cole disappears again leaving Railly to explain to law enforcement is whereabouts.
There’s no right, there’s no wrong, there’s only popular opinion. Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt)
Once back in 2035, Cole’s handlers are pleased with his progress and commend him for determining who is in charge of the Twelve Monkeys. Cole is granted a full pardon. However, Cole surprises everyone and requests to be sent back to 1996 again to finish the job. Meanwhile, Railly begins to believe Cole’s claims about being from the future as she is informed that the bullet she took from Cole’s leg was from World War I and she finds the picture of Cole with Jose from the same time. The police become suspicious of Railly and begin following her.
Railly tries to find Cole again and goes to an office building where she and Cole previously found some of the Twelve Monkey members. Outside the building, she finds Cole, who suddenly believes that he is insane and wants to be arrested so he can stay in 1996. Railly convinces him that he is not delusional. Cole returns to the plan of stopping the Twelve Monkeys. As Cole’s mission unfolds, he and Dr. Railly develop a complex relationship that goes beyond their roles as patient and psychiatrist. Cole and Railly decide to travel to the Florida Keys before the start of the plague.
On the way to the airport, they learn that the Army of the Twelve Monkeys was not responsible for the viral outbreak but instead are responsible for a juvenile prank that released all the city’s zoo animals from their cages. Convinced that they have escaped a disaster, Cole and Railly make plans to sneak past authorities in disguises to travel to Florida. Unfortunately, Dr. Goines’ lab partner, Dr. Peters (David Morse), is the true source of the viral outbreak, and Dr. Peters is at the same airport waiting to fly around the world to release the virus.
Jose reappears at the airport and gives Cole a gun. Jose informs Cole that he must finish his assignment by killing Dr. Peters. If Cole refuses, Jose has orders to kill Railly. Cole tries to stop Dr. Peters, but airport security has Dr. Peters open his vials in the airport, releasing the virus. Cole crashes through security with the gun. Law enforcement recognizes Cole and shoots him before he can shoot Dr. Peters. Cole dies in Railly’s arms. Railly recalls that Cole continually mentioned seeing her before in his dreams and describing his death in the way that it played out. Railly looks around the crowd of on lookers and sees Cole as a young child.
On board the plane, Dr. Peters unknowingly takes a seat next to another future traveler who has been sent to kill him. However, the virus has already been released and the future is set in stone.