I’m having to play a bit of catch-up today after falling behind in the schedule over the weekend. Ironically, this was due to attending a film blogging workshop on Sunday, offered by IdeasTap. For those who haven’t come across it before, it’s a funky little website offering a wide range of opportunities for people in the creative industries. It’s primarily aimed at students/graduates/youngsters, but you do get the occasional thing where they forget to put the cap on at 30. So I trotted along to the workshop on Sunday, which was great fun and a bit of an indulgence. As well as providing a useful insight into film journalism, I got to see FIVE FILMS back-to-back. But because they’re not out yet, I had to sign an embargo promising not to talk about them. Sorry.
I had to lie down in a darkened room for a while after that.
But anyway, back to business. Day 12 (which, confusingly, I watched on Day 9), was Twelve Monkeys. This was the second Bruce Willis-starring sci-fi movie of the 1990s which I hadn’t seen before (along with The Fifth Element), and I always used to get the two mixed up because a) they’ve both got numbers in the title and b) I’m a muppet.
This was the more serious and cerebral of the two, although the fact that it’s directed by Terry Gilliam should have given a clue that a degree of wackiness would be involved. Sure enough, the story is by turns profound and zany, with the prospect of world devastation juxtaposed with dream sequences, a babbling Brad Pitt, and a bunch of scientists singing ‘Blueberry Hill’.
Bruce Willis is a convict from the year 2035 who is sent back to the 1990s to gather information on the group (the “Twelve Monkeys”) who engineered the spread of a virus that wiped out most of the world’s population in 1996. Accidentally stopping off in 1990 (where he’s shoved into a mental institution) and sometime during the First World War (where he’s shot by a French bullet), he manages to hook up with Katherine Railly (Madeleine Stowe), a psychiatrist who is sympathetic to his plight. Constantly dragged back and forth between different time periods, and dogged by a recurring dream, he starts to lose conviction in his mission and his sanity.
I loved the imagery in this film: the lion prowling around the ramparts of a desolated department store; echoes of the future constantly appearing in the past; the chilling moment when the psychiatrist recognises the man in the photograph from the First World War. It’s also an interesting insight into the paradoxical stereotypes of time-travel – can the actions of a man sent back in time actually affect the course of events, or is everything pre-ordained? Willis’ character is not sent to change the events, but just to gather information. The fine-tuned ending leaves this question open-ended – will action be taken to prevent the international spread of the disease in 1996, or will they stick to the original plan and take the virus (in its pure form) back to 2035 to find a cure?
On a practical note, the film viewing suffered from my recent defection to LoveFilm, which meant that instead of smooth online buffering, I got a very jumpy DVD which seemed to skip a couple of key scenes. This was frustrating and not conducive to an undiminished viewing experience.
But I liked it and I was even able to tolerate Brad Pitt for his few brief scenes. I’m glad I’ve seen the film, but it’s probably not one I’d rush out to buy (unless HMV has it on special offer). It’s an inventive, imaginative and well-told story that nonetheless didn’t hit me at an emotional level. But it does say a lot for the story’s internal logic and coherency that the most unbelievable thing about this time-travelling, apocalyptic film is watching a man go through airport customs with several cannisters of unidentifiable liquid in his hand luggage.
Suddenly, 1996 feels a very, very long time ago.