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February 1996, Week 1


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"Edward R. O'Neill" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 1 Feb 1996 22:25:58 -0800
text/plain (49 lines)
        Not everything in *12 Monkeys* is entirely clear, but I had the
feeling the audience was meant to make certain inferences.  My only feeling
that they're "correct" inferences comes from discussing them with other
people who saw the film and read the same clues I did in the same way I did.
        I believe the "feint" about Jeffrey Goines is not made *in* the film
but rather *by* the film.  That is:  the entire idea that Goines was
involved is a red herring.  This would be more disruptive if the image of
animals above ground which appears to be Goines' actual scheme was not
assiduously prepared by the first  10 minutes of the film.  The entire idea
that Willis' character came from the future and inadvertantly "contaminated"
the past with his knowledge, on this view, is also a ruse.
        The film makes no connections between Goines and the red-haired
scientist:  they don't ever seem to meet.  Rather, we see the scientist's
interest in the psychologist's book, which we can take as a reflection of
his *own* interests and preoccupations.
        I think it's supposed to be clear to viewers that the scientist from
the future is indeed sitting  next to the red-haired scientist at the film's
close.  The stated goal of the scientists in the future--it's said at  least
three times--is to get a pure sample of the virus before it mutates (shades
of HIV's adaptive powers) in order to find a cure.  There seems to be no
idea of *preventing* the virus's release from occurring.  If that were the
goal, then Willis' character would have failed as soon as the red-haired
scientist opens one of the vials in the airport.  At that point, the game
would, in a sense, be over.
        I thought the film's use of the idea of time travel was odd, until
someone pointed out to me that the film's understanding  of time is that the
same events repeat endlessly without any control by history's
participants--like the unrolling of a film as something programmed in advance.
        In a sense, the film simplifies the concept of time travel to make
it less confusing:  the Willis character's cellmate shows up in the airport
a few minutes *after* Willis leaves the phone message, rather than before,
which would be perfectly plausible.  But the future's scientists don't  seem
to be too precise at aiming their human projectiles into time.  (Witness
Willis and his cellmate's appearance in the trenches of  World War I.)
        The release of the virus in the airport (for the pesky X-ray
security guard) and the goal of getting hold of the virus only *after* the
fact make the end of the film difficult to interpret in standard Hollywood
terms.  I heard numerous people leaving the theater say, "Well, it wasn't
really a happy ending, was it?"  Inasmuch as it seems like the film has a
tragic or anyways fateful conception of time, as opposed to a voluntarist
idea of changing the past, the whole "happy ending" question, vulgar as it
may be, is nevertheless thrown into an interesting light.
Edward R. O'Neill
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