Trends in Literature
Twelve Monkeys Fact Sheet
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).
"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)
Undergoing something of a revival,
through its inspiration of Terry Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys, this is a
strangely wonderful film with many memorable images. In fact La Jetee is
almost totally composed of individual frozen pictures, since it is a
photo-montage with sparse narration. Set in the near future, the Earth has
barely survived an all encompassing nuclear holocaust, which has driven the
remnants of humanity underground. The division between victor and vanquished is
rather meaningless under these circumstances, yet there are those who subjugate
others. With minimal resources, scientists entombed beneath the ruins of
Experiments are performed in a quest to perfect their technique but the results are unencouraging, either resulting in the darkness of insanity or death for the patient. Compelled to persevere the scientists discover that they are failing because the subjects are unable to grip the past; they have nothing on which to anchor themselves. With this information a new "volunteer" is selected, through a careful analysis of his dreams. He seems to be fixated upon a single instant from the past; as a small boy he witnessed the shooting of a man, at an airport, and found himself gazing into the entrancing face of a young woman. It is this single moment that will, the technicians hope, provide a connection for their time-traveller.
Weeks pass by, in a haze of pain and disorientation. Gradually the visitor glimpses more and more of the past, forgotten vistas of parks, children, birds and everything taken for granted before World War III. The lady of his imagination is found, she seems to accept his intrusions and disappearances with equanimity. The method of temporal projection improves, allowing accurate placement within any desired moment of the past. However, the past is a dead end as far as saving the present is concerned. Only the future can save these few subterranean survivors. Of course, if they find no one inhabiting the future than this can hardly bode well.
Although the technical style of La Jetee provides a large fraction of its charm, the essential story is projected in surprising detail for such a short piece. In part this effect is achieved through the choice of superlative black & white photographs; these are grainy enough and shot in such a way that the immediate impression is of wartime photojournalism whilst the events captured suggest far more than they illustrate. By altering the time for which each shot is held (at times a quick succession of similar images approximates to film) a tight grasp of pace and a certain level of suspense is achieved. Interestingly, perhaps the most significant result of La Jetee is that the basic structures utilized in cinema are stripped bare and revealed unadorned.
There is, however, one drawback inherent in a film where the details of the static frame are paramount. The subtitles, few though they are, both distract at a low-level and obscure sections of the perfectly shaped whole.-- Cannon, Damien. “La Jetee.” <http://www.film.u-net.com/Movies/Reviews/Jetee.html>
Terry Gillam, Director, On 12 Monkeys
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...
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 extraordinarily 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 realize 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 kind of saying everything I wanted to say about the madness of our world, in a very funny way. There was that balance between humor, 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.
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.