12 Monkeys versus Looper

I watched 12 Monkeys (1995) and Looper (2012) which are both science fiction movies starring Bruce Willis with a theme about time travel. In 12 Monkeys, a virus spreads across earth in 1997 and forces the survivors to live underground. Scientists send James Cole (played by Willis) back in time to gather information and find a sample to create a cure. Jeffrey Goines (played by Brad Pitt) meets Cole in a mental institution in 1990. Cole is heavily drugged but tells a psychiatrist, Dr. Kathryn Railly, of the future disaster.

The mental institution depicted in this movie is a prison where patients are overmedicated and at the mercy of the staff. Goines' behaviour is convincingly insane with odd mannerisms, a continual flow of manic outbursts and incessant talking. Cole tries to escape but is pinned down by about five nurses and put in restraints in an isolation room. He disappears when the scientists return him to 1997. As the story progresses, Cole has a recurring dream of a shooting at an airport. He thinks the future he knows is actually a hallucination. The ending results in a time loop, Cole forever trapped in a series of events.

The director Terry Gillam marries imagination with fantasy in his films. He depicts a paranoid apocalyptic point of view with dark humour.

In Looper, time travel has been invented but is used by criminals to send victims to the past to avoid detection. In 2044, Joe Simmons (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a "looper", one of the mercenaries who kill these victims and are paid in silver. A friend tells the young Simmons that a crime lord called the Rainmaker is responsible for murdering many loopers.

Simmon's future self (played by Willis) from 2074 is sent back in time to 2044. Young Simmons needs to kill his future self in order to "close the loop" to avoid severe punishment from his superiors. The future Simmons tells his younger self he must find and kill the Rainmaker as a child in order to prevent him from murdering the loopers.

A young boy Cid who is gifted with telekinetic ability is discovered on a farm and identified as the Rainmaker. Cid and his caregiver Sara try to escape to the fields. Sara tries to protect Cid from a bullet from the older Simmon's gun. The younger Simmons predicts that if Cid sees Sara being shot, he will seek revenge on all the loopers.

The questions arise, can we change history through our actions? Do our actions define society as a whole? To what length will one go to preserve one's own life or make sacrifices for others?

In these movies, love is fleeting if present at all. The dark side of humanity is much more prevalent throughout these films. The two worlds presented in these films are both the result of destruction caused by man. In 12 Monkeys, Cole cannot change the future. In Looper, Simmons does.

Looper isn't about mental illness but it does provoke a discussion about the power of the mind. ESP and telekinesis in this movie are seen as part of human evolution. Someone with mental illness might sense things that others don't but that is seen as a defect not a strength. Suspension of disbelief in films pushes the audience to ignore logic and reason and see the action and special effects as real while viewing. A person with psychosis may temporarily lose judgment and live in a fictional world but through insight, he can train himself to know where the line of reality lies.

Depictions of madness and asylums have become stereotypical in a way. Is it too much to ask that if I were to time travel to a decade from now, that cruelty toward the mentally ill will have been eradicated and people with mental illness will be treated properly, have purpose and joy in their lives, and live in a recovered state? I would hope that through scientific research and ethical standards, we can change the direction of how we treat people with mental illness. And then we can make another movie about it.


Gregor I-H said…
Hi Sandra,
I am not sure how relevant this is to your main point, but I heard on Radio Canada some time ago that Looper (which I have not yet seen, alas) is basically a remake of 12 Monkeys with a few twists, and that both (or at least certainly 12 Monkeys) is based on a 1962 short French film called La jetée (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Jet%C3%A9e).
La jétee was an experimental film (montage?) made using a series of black and white still photos with audio and features the same sort of time travel paradoxes seen in the later films. I saw it a long time ago and I think it did suggest that the subject travels through time using some sort of experimental mind control technology so might be of interest to your general critique of depictions of mental health in media, particularly since it is from a different era and culture. It’s about 30 min in duration and should be available on YouTube. The story takes place in the now all too familiar dystopian post-apocalyptic future; the protagonist does the time travel and there are some unexpected surprises in the plot. It’s definitely an interesting piece of work in terms of the weirdly compelling style and the (at the time anyway) novel plot.
Thanks for the info, Gregor I-H. I'll check it out. regards, Sandra
Gregor I-H, I watched an english dubbed version but the sound wasn't too good. But really La Jétee is an amazing film. The use of still images with narration works very well. The ending is superb. I read that Chris Marker the director died at age 91 last year.
Gregor I-H said…
I just checked and there is a version with accurate English subtitles on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezkAeQuUqCg
There is some sort of Google caption ("CC") button at the bottom of the screen that allows you to select "English captions" that seem to me to be very faithful to the original French (based on a 5 min sample anyway).
Thanks for sending that. The wording is very well done.
Thanks for sending that. The wording is very well done.