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Twelve Monkeys Food for Thought: After the Movie

Adapted from: Bucephelus. “Twelve Monkeys.” <http://members.tripod.com/~Bucephalus/index2.html> January 4, 2004.

The plot of 12 Monkeys can be quite intimidating to one who is not too used to the plot complexities in some films and novels (especially science-fiction). There are still some unanswered questions to mull over. Work in small groups to analyze the film. You will receive a discussion grade for your smart analysis.

  1. Characters. Choose one to discuss. If time permits, move on to discuss others.
    1. What is Jeffrey Goines’ role (if any) in causing the end of the world?
    2. A real question could be brought up regarding Doctor Railly's past. When she first meets Cole, she keeps wondering if she has met him somewhere before. In the scene where James and her go to the movie theater to put on their disguises, he awakens and leaves to find her. When they meet, she looks at him and says, "This is how I remember you." At what point in the movie or time continuum would she see James like that (other than the end scene which occurs later)?
    3. The bums Cole and Railly encounter when searching for the Army of the Twelve Monkeys support either theory. Cole hears a man talking to him from one of the stalls in the “present.” The man's voice is the one he later hears on the street from the bum. In both cases he calls him “Bob.” He lets him know that he fooled the scientists’ plans to monitor him by pulling his teeth, which held trackers. Cole walks away mumbling, "They don't have to spy on me. I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing." In the same scene, an end-of-the-world street-preacher/bum calls after him, “You’re one of us!” Was Cole really a man from the future, or was he insane? Explain how each supported by his encounter with the bums. Also note how the teeth appear again at the end when we learn that James already had his pardon…
    4. Some critics say that there is religious symbolism at work in Twelve Monkeys. Some say James Cole (or J.C) is sent to save the world from the apocalypse, and others say Jeffrey is the Christ figure as a savior of the animals, and his father is God. According to other sites on religious connections within 12 Monkeys, James Cole is Jesus Christ, Jeffrey Goines is Judas Iscariot, Kathryn Railly is Mary (Jesus' Mother), the Apocalyptic Street Prophet is John the Baptist, and Dr. Leland Goines, Jeffrey's father, is Satan… Analyze the characters through this lens, finding proof that supports these theories.
    5. The virus carrier with the red hair gets his tickets checked out at the airport desk. The teller says, "This is some trip you're taking," and he responds smoothly, "Business." Railly says, "Dr. Goines’ assistant, he's an apocalypse nut." Why does she say this? Does he intend to end the world? Why or why not?
    6. Other points?
  2. Themes. Choose one to discuss. If time permits, move on to discuss others.
    1. Discuss how the film makes us contemplate dreams/insanity vs. reality/sanity. It is possible to say that Cole was insane the whole film. Using that idea, nothing is what it seems; Cole's insanity could have bred delusions, these delusions composing the entire film. Or, Cole could have been a time-traveler and a savior.
    2. As far as we know, time is linear, and nothing can change that. Yet, James Cole sees himself die. Is his life linear or is he stuck in a time loop? Decide as a group and provide reasons for your answer. Examine his life, death, travels, reoccurring dream and other elements to help you formulate a thesis.
    3. Examine the phone calls made. One James makes is a wrong number. James makes a phone call, using the number he was given in case he had to contact the people of the present/future. He leaves a message telling them that the Army of the 12 Monkeys is just "a bunch of dumb kids playing revolutionaries." He also says that he did his job (debunked the 12 Monkeys myth), and he "won't be coming back [to the future]." Railly also makes one. What is significant about these calls and how do they play into the overall themes of the movie?
    4. Analyze the apocalypse nature of this film. For instance, the final scene shows the Apocalyptic Nut on the plane, seated next to none other than the female scientist of the future. She introduces herself as Jones, who's "in insurance." The meaning of this could be that she is here as an "insurance policy" just in case Cole didn't manage to locate the virus. One might speculate that she steals one of the vials to obtain a pure sample of the deadly virus. Or, is she part of the end of the world? Or an ignorant bystander?
    5. Railly presents a talk on the Cassandra Disease, which is based on the Greek mythological character Cassandra who was given the gift of prophecy but was also cursed to never be believed. How does this relate to the movie?
    6. Other points?