Such a great assault on the brain, Terry Gilliam returns to confront the audience with either time travel or madness. The performances clinch the deal. This is probably Bruce Willis’ best work, ever, and possibly Brad Pitt as well.
Some films are so off the wall, unexpected and anti-formulaic, that they become the best loved of all. Brazil is like that, a film that studio suits won’t understand, ever, and yet change people’s lives upon viewing them. With 12 Monkeys, we saw things that we hadn’t seen before, and the jigsaw puzzle pieces fit together so well it felt like an elevated level of existence, where more is possible.
Combining science fiction, romantic notions and pure brain damage, Gilliam managed to tell a story that nobody expected. It’s the whole greater than the sum of its parts thing that defies explanation.
The aesthetics are pure cinema. This looks like film, like classic film, beautiful hypnotic images often with ultra wide lenses distorting reality in the service of emotion. Some films remind me how movies are supposed to look, in a perfect world. This is clearly one of them. Gilliam, Kubrick and Jean Paul Jenet just always capture a lush cinematic image quality that mesmerizes, unlike a lot of the video camera produced imagery today. The noir lighting, lenses and film stocks define, for me, what movies have been and should be. They’re like the gold standard to aspire to.
The Hamsster Factor is on the Bonus Features of the 12 Monkeys DVD: