DIRECTOR: TERRY GILLIAM
COUNTRY: USA 1995
CINEMATOGRAPHY: ROGER PRATT
MUSIC: PAUL BUCKMASTER
CAST: Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt, Madeleine Stowe, Christopher Plummer
BASED ON: The French Film La Jetee
SUPER FEATURES: Unbelievable assault on the senses.
It's been said that there is a fine line between madness and genius. I think that line can be spelled Terry Gilliam.
12 MONKEES, is either one of the best designed and written film that has ever been made, or else, pure madness, the kind that is literaly impossible to figure out, let alone keep up with it.
The question is, now that you are armed with some sense of reality and idealism, how the heck are you going to define this film. But, there is no doubt in my mind that the man who came up with this thing knows what he is doing, and how he wants to present it. Another problem arises, ... this film is a veritable assault on the senses and hard to follow, though it comes together real well in the end, albeit not as happily as we would like, I'm sure.
Basically, this is a time travel story, but one that ends up getting trapped in the present. There has been a massive disease that has pretty much killed almost all of the world's population, and it is this man's job to go and find what happened, so this advanced society can send its own scientists to that time to get the problem resolved and, presumably, help the devastating effect it had later on this futuristic society. And one man, who has an excellent memory, is sent out as the one who has to find the culprits, dubbed 12 Monkees.
And before we know what is going on, he is already in another time, and as things develop we find that he is capable of predicting things and most think he is crazy. But, those who created the device to send him to the specific place in time, are having problems of their own. Their invention is not perfected yet, and he ends up in various other places. Soon enough he comes to the right place.
He meets a psychologist, who turns out to be very good help, once she figures out that what she is hearing is true based on small incidents here and there which they come across. And there are several things which help the psychologist, six years later, realize that there just might be something to all this after all.
Amidst all this, is another person, whom he meets along his travels. He is a scientist ( so he says ), and also has been institutionalized in the earlier years, where this man first found him.
As it turns out, the young man scientist is actually a cover for the real action, even if what they want to do is noble, and justified, and an unintentional one at that. His father has already set in motion an experimental vaccine, which, as it turns out, is the actual virus the man is seeking for his own scientists.
But getting past all the populace, and their inability to understand, or question, what anything that anyone says is really all about, is at the bottom of this film. Further down, is a love story. And further down, yet, is a story about a society that has failed its own people and because they do not make attempts at understanding them, they make serious mistakes. And one day, these mistakes will cost many lives.
This brutal assault on the senses by Terry Gilliam's vision, makes for a film, that reminds me of the early Luis Bunuel's material, though he rarely made comments about social anything, leaving it all instead to individual characters to face their own internal problems. Like Bunuel, this film pops in and out of the characters's mind, for our sake, just one character --- wheeeeewww --- which at times makes for a series of events that do not appear to have much meaning, until later, if we have the patience to sit with it. If we don't the whole exercise is wasted.
One might even suggest that this type of work is Monty Python gone deadly serious, with its suggestions and that what we perceive as gags, are not that at all. This is what this film is like. And unlike the famed group that Terry Gilliam himself was a part of, the material here is set with pinpoint accuracy and detail in order to fit the much larger picture. And this picture is not as nebulous as we are likely to think at the start. But there are hints all the time, that this larger picture has lost sight of the very people that make it, which, could also be said to be the main theme in this film.
About the only thing anyone can say about this stuff, is that, you have to have a special likeing for material that is extremely literary in content, and at the same time written, and in this case, directed, with a very special set of talents, that are capable of jugling its contents in such a manner as to make it clear that there is something happening, but like the main characters, we are not sure what it is is actually going on. The people, in these situations are mere puppets, of a much larger set of people, who want to control others for their own exercise in power.... we may guess any reason.
While 12 MONKEES is a brilliant film in every respect, specially linked in style to the madness found in Terry Gilliam's other futuristic endeavour, BRAZIL, or even the likes of material like BLADE RUNNER, or DELICATESSEN, there is one inherant problem with this kind of material.... it is a veritable assault on the senses. But what vision, and what depth, to define it in such a way, as to keep us on the edge of our seats.
This may be fun to watch, but it is not entertainment. It is serious material. The acting work all around is absolutely
incredible, and the three main leads, Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt and Madeleine Stowe are just as close to perfect and specially well directed all the way through. Don't be surprised if you do not see one of these people walk away with an Oscar, as Mercedes Rhuel did for THE KING FISHER, another Terry Gilliam masterpiece. And there are so man things in this film that stand out that it is almost impossible to review it as just another movie.
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