Twelve Monkeys: Dreams Facts

Edited by Phil Stubbs

Twelve Monkeys, directed by Terry Gilliam, was released in the US on 27 Dec 1995. This page contains an introduction to the movie and links to other Dreams pages dedicated to 12 Monkeys. Look out for Gilliam's thoughts on time travel at the foot of the page.

Twelve Monkeys features within Dreams...

From the Evangelist
Recollections from the set by Twelve Monkeys actor Thomas Roy

Dangerous Visions
a Twelve Monkeys retrospective written for Dreams by JD Lafrance

Interview with Terry Gilliam upon the UK release of Twelve Monkeys
from Channel 4's The Big Breakfast

Twelve Monkeys interview with Terry Gilliam -
...from UK cinema magazine Sight and Sound

Exclusive Dreams interview with the directors of The Hamster Factor
The film of the making of Twelve Monkeys

The Hamster Factor
A clipping from Neon magazine

The Hamster Factor - press release

Bruce Willis as James Cole in 12 Monkeys

Introduction to Twelve Monkeys from the Programme Notes

"The human race was doomed. It was cut off from space.
Its only hope for survival was time...emissaries in time
to summon the past and the future to the aid of the present.
One man was chosen for his obsession with an image from the past,
but he is never sure whether he invents or dreams."

... from La Jetee (1962)

Screenwriters David and Janet Peoples drew their inspiration for 12 MONKEYS from French filmmaker Chris Marker's haunting and provocative 1962 short film, La Jetee (The Runaway).

Roven had collaborated with the respected screenwriter Peoples (Unforgiven, Blade Runner) once before, on the 1990 futuristic adventure, The Blood of Heroes, which Roven produced and Peoples wrote and directed. Roven comments, "What they came up with was something inspired by La Jetee, but is uniquely 12 MONKEYS. They did a spectacular job". He goes on to say, "The Peoples wrote a script that, because of its time-travel aspect and its different worlds aspect, needed somebody who could give it a fantastic visual sense. And, the perfect director for it was Terry Gilliam".

Gilliam's own time travels behind the camera have produced some of the most dazzling and imaginative visuals ever portrayed on the movie screen, from the magical fantasy Time Bandits to the visually-stunning Orwellian world in Brazil to the quest for mankind's redemption in contemporary New York in The Fisher King.

12 MONKEYS represents only the second film for which Gilliam did not write his own screenplay. Although he prefers working in that capacity, he was captivated, he admits, by the Peoples' "intriguing and intelligent script. The story is disconcerting. It deals with time, madness and a perception of what the world is or isn't. It is a study of madness and dreams, of death and re-birth, set in a world coming apart", visions that the filmmaker vividly explored in such earlier works as Brazil and The Fisher King.

Gilliam, who first met Bruce Willis while casting The Fisher King found it intriguing "when Bruce's name came up for this because the story needed somebody who is strong and dangerous but also vulnerable. And, I remember a scene in the first Die Hard where he's picking glass out of his feet while on the phone to his wife. He starts crying as he's talking and I thought it was such a wonderful scene where a guy could be that sensitive and macho at the same time. It's paid off wonderfully. People are going to be astounded by his performance", Gilliam proclaims.

Willis himself was also captivated by the "really good script and my desire to work with Terry, one of our most gifted storytellers. Terry chooses good scripts and is always involved with something very, very intriguing".

"I was intrigued by the notion of exploring what psychosis is", the actor goes on to say. "During the film, other people think Iím crazy. For some of the film, I think Iím crazy myself. For most of the film, we dangle the question for the audience - is the man truly psychotic, or are these events he foretells actually happening? You never know until the very end of the film, and it's a nice surprise", he concludes.

And, his stark look was further enhanced by his makeup artist, Cristina Bartolucci, who, everyday, etched a trio of tattoos onto Willis' scalp and neck - one that indicated his prisoner number, and a pair of bar-codes, the kind imprinted on packaged goods, on each side of his neck.

Gilliam chose Madeleine Stowe to play the psychiatrist and author, Dr. Kathryn Railly, who is kidnapped by the time-traveller and thrust into his absurd adventure to save the planet. The award-winning actress perceived her character as "not the most balanced human being in the world, and not necessarily good at what she does. She's not as gifted and not as intelligent as she thinks".

Ironically, it was Stowe's "incredible intelligence", says Gilliam, that won her the role the filmmaker calls "the key, the anchor of the piece" and one co-star Willis defines as "the hardest part in the film". Willis emphasizes her challenge by saying "I get to slobber and rant and rave, but Madeleine has a difficult part. She has to play this straight-thinking doctor, very rational, who guides the audience through the madness".

Stowe, who won accolades for her work in Blink and The Last of the Mohicans and captured the National Society of Film Critics prize for Robert Altman's Short Cuts, had initially met Gilliam a few years ago to discuss another project. It was her commanding performance in Michael Apted's thriller Blink that caught Gilliam's eye.

"She's just one of the finest actresses out there," the director proclaims. "She has this incredible ethereal beauty and she's incredibly intelligent. Those two things rest very easily with her, and the film needed those elements because it has to be romantic."

Stowe was also delighted to be working with Gilliam. "You have few opportunities in life to work with someone like Terry", enthuses the actress. "I loved the script, and really wanted to work with him badly. There aren't many directors who are as stunning as he is in their approach. He's provocative, much like Robert Altman, in the sense that they both love chaos. Terry doesn't like to follow the expected course of things. This has been the most disorienting experience I've ever had".

Brad Pitt took on the role of Jeffrey Goines, the leader of a band of animal activists whose father (played by Christopher Plummer) has created a test-tube virus that may have been unleashed into the population by Pitt and his cohorts as a deadly protest against the researcher's abuse of laboratory animals.

"Brad was keen to do the part, one that was so unlike anything he'd tried before", Gilliam comments. "He plays a fast-talking, wild, crazed person. I was intrigued by the idea, always like the idea, of casting against type. Brad has taken a leap, a dangerous leap, that's going to amaze people".

In Philadelphia, months before joining the production, Pitt spent weeks at Temple University's hospital, visiting the psychiatric ward to prepare for his role as Jeffrey, the disturbed radical. To nail his research, Pitt did not visit Temple just to observe, he went in character.

Like Bruce Willis, Pitt also registered a drastically different look for the role. "Brad saw his character as a Charles Manson type, and developed the look of Jeffrey based on some of the people he met at Temple", Gilliam notes. "He shaved parts of his head and developed a hypnotic intense look".

"For the role of Jeffrey, we needed somebody magnetic", producer Roven declares. "Someone you were compelled to look at. The role is something very different for Brad, the kind of character we hoped he'd be interested in playing. It adds another dimension to his career."

For the role of the Nobel-winning scientist, Dr. Leland Goines, Gilliam tapped the multi-dimensional talents of Tony-and-Emmy Award-winning actor Christopher Plummer.

Plummer, who was coerced into the pivotal guest-star part by Gilliam's "diabolical charm", calls the story "a riveting adventure, diabolically complicated. My part is rather decadent, devious, oily, not an evil son-of-a-bitch, but a sort of unaware freak. It's the sort of part that's nice to play. One where they talk about you for the first two acts, then you come on in the third."

"Here we take this great actor who's been in so many amazing films, done some of the finest work ever on-stage, and we end up putting him in a body bag", Gilliam muses about one of the world's most accomplished performers, whose prominence in the American theatre is unparalleled. "And, he's got to act his way out of a sack. A Shakespearean actor acting in a sack. It reminded me of Robert De Niro acting with a bag over his head in Brazil."

"I'm not drawn to straightforward stories", Gilliam admits, "but to more complex ones. This film is a tragedy in a strange way, but also a love story and it deals with death and resurrection. It's a hard film to describe, it doesn't fit neatly into a bag. It's not high concept. It's not your typical Hollywood film, and will demand something of the audience."

Terry Gilliam on Time Travel

Below is the text from Gilliam's recent appearence on the Time Travel night featured on the new digital FilmFour channel. This was transcribed by Gilliam fan Miles Dumble...

I think Time Travel allows you to, if you go into the future, to look at ourselves. I think that it becomes a mirror in a strange way - you go to another time and you look at yourself in that time. Either the character goes and we see how foolish he is or how intelligent he is, or we see how we've messed it up, if we're going to the future. I think that's what it's about - it's a mirror.

One of the reasons, in a sense, that I like cinema is that it always was Time Travel for me. Growing up as a kid, I'd go an watch Ben Hur and Silver Chalice, and so I was able to go back to Roman times, or when we made Holy Grail, we went back to medieval times and play with it. You can immediately go into these other worlds and they're totally believable, so it's actually been my Time Machine.

None of these films are Utopian films - none of the futures of Time Travel are going to be great and wondrous futures, they are all going to futures or coming back from futures that are all flawed. And, it's interesting how much we want to punish ourselves or question our motives or our ability to make things better.

(TG starts talking about the next film: The Navigator - A Mediaeval Odyssey)

I mean Vince Ward created a world that was so difficult and so painful and so basic, and you just wanted to escape from this world, which they do, and you end up in something that is maybe worse on many levels, because it is our world and they don't have a clue. It gives us the chance to see so many of the things we've done, and I love it because you're seeing it through their eyes, and because you are seeing it through these innocent eyes, you're able to see how extraordinary, or absurd, or dangerous our world is.

Well, this is the problem with Time Travel: I never know where I want to go. I'd be curious to see what the future is, but in some ways, I don't want to know - I'd rather imagine. It's not as interesting as my imagination, so, I'm frightened of Time Travel for that reason.

I just get on Concorde and I go to New York - I get there, and I beat the sun, and so, clearly I'm ahead of myself somehow. I think we're living in Time Travel.

The minute I see Time Machines, I usually go a bit wobbly because I never believe them. I think that's a thing that one has got to be careful of in Time Travel movies.

That's what I love about Time Travel in 12 Monkeys, they haven't quite got their act together yet.

12 Monkeys when it began, was very clear with David and Jan Peoples who wrote it, that it wasn't going to be a remake of La Jetee - it was going to be inspired by it. La Jetee is the Acorn, in a sense, and 12 Monkeys is the Oak, and they are both finite things and one did become the other.

La Jetee is such an extraoridinarily simple, pure, poetic film and it's extraordinary because it's all stills - nothing moves except for one brief moment, and yet, it tells this tale in a post-apocalyptic world, of somebody who's being sent back in time, trying to uncover the secret for humanity to continue, basically.

David and Jan, after seeing La Jetee just went off and started inventing more and more things. They're dealing with madness, they're dealing with crazy people, they're dealing with this incredibly complex technical world, but it is a technological world that has been created out of the rubble of our world: a bit of here, a bit of there, a wire from here, a fan from there, and it was always about nostalgia - I think both films are about nostalgia. It's about remembering and using the past to try and save the future.

The thing that hooked me when I first read it, I was intrigued by it. I mean, when you get a script that is as complex as that, and it's been handed to you from an executive in a Hollywood studio, you think this is madness, how do they expect to make this thing?! I mean, I know how to make it and I like the idea of trying to make it, but are they really going to go through with this thing?

And, that was part of the joy of making this film. To put out something as intelligent and complex as that, out into the mainstream and see who's out there. To me, making films like that is important because we send out these flares. We're on this ocean at night, all of us floating around. "Is anybody else out there?". And occasionally, to me, I use a movie as a flare. You send it up in the air and POOM! you realise that there's other people out there and they get it - they see the flare as well.

I also found it very funny. The script I found the character that Brad Pitt plays, and when I first found those speeches, they were wonderful. They were kinda saying everything I wanted to say about the madness of our world, in a very funny way. There was that balance between humour, drama, suspense and romance - it was all in there plus something that would make you think. It'd be a conundrum, it'd be a puzzle that would be interesting to try and work out. It wouldn't be the kind of puzzle where I know the answer, and you're never going to find out - it's all there for anybody to find out.

I thought that it'd be a film that would get people talking. Talking about "was that really that?", "was that that?" or "what really happened?"

And ultimately, at the time, viruses were really frightening us. Not only was AIDS out there, but the Ebola virus. Strangely enough, 12 Monkeys started at the same time there were several other virus films about to start. It was very much in the air. That was the dangerous part, it was very much in the air and 5 billion people died.

The Hamster Factor was the result of me, having made a couple of films and extraordinary things happening on them, and them not being chronicled. So we got 2 students, they were Honour Grad students from Temple University in Philadelphia, and they had made a couple of small films, and we gave them a Hi8 camera, and said "Go. You have access to everything - there's no secrets here, you just shoot."

The great thing about Hi8 is that it is cheap, and they shot and they shot and I had a microphone on me half the time and I didn't want to have any control over it, ultimately, even though we commissioned it and financed it. I wanted to leave it in their hands and that's what's there.

The Hamster Factor is there because it is the one moment in the entire process, where I stop and say "I want to be in control." Much of the filmmaking, I'm conducting, but I wouldn't say I'm in control, and there's a moment where it finally gets to me and I've got to have control of this moment, completely and utterly, and usually it's the most insignificant thing in the entire production, and I become obsessed with it.

Most of the rest of the time I'm quite a nice guy to work with, but there's occasional moments where I've got to be, and I've got to get it. It is usually totally incidental, that's what I find interesting about it, it's missing the big picture and yet, it becomes all important.

I think that if there's a weakness in The Hamster Factor, is that it's probably too much about me - I wanted to have a broader picture, but that's what they chose to do. I'd have rather had seen and heard more faces and voices speaking about the collaborative nature of the thing. I think they missed out some of those, but I think what they've got there is honest and accurate and when I read some reviews saying that clearly, some of those scenes were set up, I get very angry because nothing was set up. It's all just raw, warts and all.

I just think it's interesting to make a documentary and expose how films really work. I'm always trying to de-mystify the process because I think there's a lot of nonsense written about it and there's a lot of people who create these temples to themselves.

Some people will feel disoriented and lost in the film, other people will say "Wow! This is a great ride!" I don't know, I never know what an audience is and I never try to reach everybody - I'd rather reach some people who get it and respond in a very positive, passionate way than try to reach a huge market, a huge audience that is ok about it.

One of the things I like about 12 Monkeys, is that it is circular - it keeps going around. I don't know if anything changes in the process. It's Oriental, basically. It's Eastern in this wheel of life that just keeps turning and rolling on and our characters will never get off. And they'll roll around, and they'll be born and live their life and die and they'll fall in love, in the mean time, and they'll discover things, and then they'll go around again and again and again.

Some External Monkey Links

Twelve Monkeys site
by Chris Pollard

Temporal Anomalies in Time Travel Movies
Twelve Monkeys in heavily featured

Twelve Monkeys
on the imdb
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