I rewatched the Terry Gilliam-directed “12 Monkeys” the other day, which I remember seeing in the cinema when it first came out in 1996 or thereabouts. Then, as now, I was a sci-fi nerd and I remember watching it chiefly for the fantastical elements – time travel, alternative futures, biological disaster, etc. Now, with the benefit of a decade of healthcare experience, I can see what a clever film about mental illness it is. It’s all there – the secret knowledge, important missions, random experiences which hold great importance. As usual in these kind of settings the hero is a Cassandra and is punished and ridiculed for it by the other characters. However I never got the feeling that Gilliam is unsympathetic toward the mentally ill, while also not veering too far in the direction of the “mental illness as social construct” crowd.
Bruce Willis’ work is impressive – his sheer physicality is startling, even though I feel he’s often been under-appreciated by being cast chiefly in taciturn tough-guy roles. Brad Pitt is excellent too and hugely entertaining, another actor who is under appreciated (ironically because he is very pretty). The film has dated, but only in reasonable areas such people’s clothing. The incidental music is pretty terrible though, apart from the spooky theme music.
There are a number of very 90s concerns running through the film – vivisection, corporate culture and and global apocalypse by virus, the last of which which seems a little antiquated since we’ve had a few real threats since then (bird flu, ebola). But these things go in and out of fashion. Recently we’ve been worried about economic meltdown and global warming. Perhaps machine intelligence is next. Or maybe it’s one of the seemingly meaningless diversions which add up to something hugely important, seen backwards.