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Do I have something in my eye?

12 Monkeys is an Academy Award-nominated 1995 science fiction film directed by Terry Gilliam and written by David and Janet Peoples. The film was inspired by the French short film La Jetée. It stars Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, and Brad Pitt, who won a Golden Globe for best supporting actor; Pitt was also nominated for an Academy Award in the same category.

There is a chance that James Cole is not insane. His paranoid ravings about a post-apocalyptic future in which the world has been ravaged by a deadly virus might be true, and the Army of the Twelve Monkeys might be real. The only trouble is, if Dr. Kathryn Railly accepts this, she will have to accept a terrifying truth: The End of the World as We Know It is coming... very soon.

Tropes used in 12 Monkeys include:

  • Air Vent Passageway: Referenced; after Cole vanishes out of his restraints and a locked room in a mental hospital, the staff glance up at the tiny vent shaft (however this escape did not actually happen in such a way).
  • After the End: Cole's 'present'.
  • Animal Wrongs Group: The Army of the Twelve Monkeys is an animal rights group blamed for the spread of a deadly super-virus that kills most of humanity. They end up having nothing to do with it.
  • Apocalypse How: Both Class 1 and Class 3A, since there's a virus that exterminated 99% of humanity and made the Earth's surface uninhabitable mainly for humans. Animals weren't affected by this.
  • Beauty Inversion
  • Bedlam House
  • Big Bad Ensemble: Jeffrey Goines is the leader of the titular eco-terrorist group who seeks to free the animals in the Bronx Zoo, while Dr. Peters is the man responsible for releasing the plague on humanity.
  • Broken Aesop/Space Whale Aesop: Because airport security makes you open all your containers, mankind will be wiped out by questionably-motivated scientists.
  • Can't Take Anything with You
    • With the exception of the bullet in his leg.
    • It seems the rule is you can't take anything that is external to your body. Cole also gets the spider he swallowed back to the future just fine.
  • Cassandra Truth
  • Chewing the Scenery: Brad Pitt goes somewhat over-the-top in his scenes in the madhouse, but it works.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: A rather creepy but otherwise unimportant character is introduced midway through who turns out to be the guy who spread the virus.
  • Covers Always Lie: At first glance it sure looks like a cyborg on the cover. It's not until you look closer that you see it's the symbol of the Army of the 12 Monkeys.
  • Cuckoo Nest
  • Depraved Dentist: Cole inflicts this on himself because he believes that they track time travelers with devices implanted in their teeth. Leads to one of the few Crowning Moments Of Funny in the whole movie.

Hey... is that the cops? I'm an innocent victim in here! I was attacked by a coked up whore and a - a fuckin' crazy dentist!

  • Downer Ending
    • Esoteric Happy Ending: Cole dies and the apocalypse can't be averted, but in that last scene on the airplane, we see the councilwoman from the future following the man with the virus--implying that, thanks to Cole's work, the scientists will finally get their sample of the virus and be able to engineer a vaccine.
      • The ending actually implies that the council in the future had full knowledge of everything that had already occurred, and that James Cole's mission was to ensure the past unfolded like it was supposed to. The fact that Cole says, 'This isn't about the virus anymore is it? This is about following orders' when Jose appears to give him the gun in the airport after Cole leaves his final message (revealing that The Army of the Twelve Monkeys had nothing to do with the virus), along with the councilwoman meeting the man with the virus on the airplane, introducing herself as someone who does 'insurance', seems to indicate that the council had access to all the information from the beginning, and were simply using Cole the entire time
  • Dueling Stars Movie: Bruce Willis vs. Brad Pitt.
    • One could argue that this is more of a retroactive example, as Pitt (while having found recent acknowledgements for his roles in Interview with the Vampire and Se7en ), wasn't nearly as big a star as Bruce Die Hard Willis at the time of the film's release.
  • Dull Surprise: Bruce Willis, which is very well justified by his character being either heavily sedated or emotionally traumatized for most of the movie. In addition, it provides a perfect contrast for Brad Pitt's maniacal bombast.
  • Enforced Method Acting: Brad Pitt's nervous and rapid speech was aided by Terry Gilliam not letting him smoke during shooting.
  • Generic Graffiti: The Army of the 12 Monkeys tags the walls around their base with graffiti shaped like a ring of 12 monkeys.
  • Go Among Mad People
  • Here We Go Again
  • Hospital Hottie: Dr. Kathryn Railly
  • Idiot Ball: The Airport Security Guard. When a scientist has a specially sealed case and tells you the vials inside contain "biological samples", what in the name of sanity would make you want him to open it?
  • Just Before the End
  • Large Ham: Brad Pitt's acting is gloriously over-the-top.
  • The Law of Conservation of Detail: During Dr. Railly's speech she briefly shows an etching of a man from the 1100s proclaiming the end of the world in 1996. Later on when James in 1996 you see that man preaching on the side of a street corner. Also another example is a phone message heard by Cole in the 'present' is later found out to be made by Dr. Railly.
  • Mad Oracle: It's implied that many such oracles were actually time travelers who landed in the wrong era.
  • Meanwhile in the Future
  • Mind Screw: For the viewer, although by the end it becomes comprehensible. Also, for James, who starts to think he really is insane and that he imagined traveling from the future. It's mentioned that this happens to all time travellers. Finally, for Katherine, first as she starts to realize that James must have come from the future, and later when she starts to "remember" things that never actually happened (when they put on the disguises and she says he looks familiar.)
  • Misanthrope Supreme: The villains, who engineer a lethal virus.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: Cole encounters a lion in the city while collecting samples in the future. Releasing zoo animals was the Army Of The Twelve Monkeys' plan.
  • Musical Spoiler: The first clue of Brad Pitt's involvement with the Army of the 12 Monkeys is when the "12 Monkeys" Leitmotif plays during one of his rants.
  • Non-Indicative Name: As Mr. Cranky asks in his review, "Where are the monkeys?"
  • The Plague
  • Poke the Poodle: It is revealed that the horrifyingly evil plot of The Army of the Twelve Monkeys amounts to releasing some animals from a zoo.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: NO! MORE! MONKEY! BUSINESS!!!
  • Red Herring: The Army of the Twelve Monkeys didn't release the virus.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog
  • Shout-Out: Cole and Railly attend a Hitchcock movie marathon just before they go to the airport.
  • Significant Monogram: James Cole.
  • Stable Time Loop
  • Subtitles Always Spoil: Some versions of the movie have subtitles that label the voice on the recording "Kathryn's voice", despite Cole specifically saying the voice was unidentifiable later in the movie.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: The longer James stays in one timeline, the more he begins to doubt his memories of the other one.
  • Tragic Irony: "I've done my job, I did what you wanted. Good luck. I'm not coming back."
  • The Virus
  • What Year Is This?
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: All the time travelers are going insane from the stresses involved in time travel; hence the use of expendable prisoners for this task.
  • World War I: Features in a few short scenes and has relevance to the whole Time Travel plot.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Played cruelly straight.