Twelve Monkeys

Twelve Monkeys ★★★★½

I find really strange coincidences to be fascinating, which is why I can't seem to get over the one I experienced the other day when I was picking out films to watch at the library. I don't believe I ever knew that La Jetee was the inspiration behind the production of the film 12 Monkeys, I honestly don't recall ever hearing such a thing. Perhaps I did, at some point in time years ago and it subconsciously stuck with me, but I doubt it. So I grabbed La Jetee from the DVD section because it had been recommended to me recently, but again, with that recommendation there was no mention of 12 Monkeys, which I just so happen to walk over to the Blu Ray options and spot only moments later, adding it to the glorious pile of completely free film residing in my arms.

It wasn't until after I finished La Jetee and fell head over heels in love with it that I did some reading up on the history of that work, only to see 12 Monkeys get brought up in relation to it time and time again. While this wasn't technically my first ever viewing of Monkeys, it has been so many years between them that I could barely remember the plot of the film, let alone whether or not I enjoyed it. The fact that I was able to see the masterful short film first was a huge benefit for me entering this long awaited revisit because with the inspiration still fresh in my mind, I was able to truly appreciate that this wasn't some attempt by Terry Gilliam to remake a classic or try to improve upon a film that may have desperately needed an expansion or upgrade of the narrative. 12 Monkeys is a fantastic science fiction work that shows the utmost respect to what inspired it to be, using the incredible concept and conclusion of the flawless short film and building onto and around it with a surprising confidence and ease. Typically I dread the idea of a filmmaker finding a way to even remotely connect their own work to a true cinematic classic because the results can only fail when forced to shine in such a bright, massive spotlight. What Gilliam achieved here was brilliant, because he both tipped his cap to a science fiction masterpiece that was released 33 years before it while somehow also crafting a work that felt remarkably fresh and original.

The way the usage of time travel allows the plot to unfold is extraordinary, allowing us to encounter a unique blend of characters and set pieces that constantly keep the film feeling exciting and alive. The performances across the board fit the tone of the work beautifully, but this is not just an example of familiar faces giving us their best. This is a testament to how important the aspects of creating a film that occur behind the scenes are, the incredible importance of the words on the pages that are being delivered, the inspired casting choices that brought the best possible vision to the screen, and the art direction and cinematography that delivered such appealing, bizarre visuals throughout.

I could get used to a La Jetee/12 Monkeys double feature every so often, revisit the original work of art that proved to be so influential it literally is the reason why the latter even exists in the first place. Gilliam deserves to be commended because not only did he avoid a potential train wreck by connecting his work to such a beauty, he actually created a film that is almost just as good.