12 Monkeys Ending

Okay, I just saw 12 Monkeys for the first time. I got really confused at the end. A couple people have told me that he really prevented the virus from spreading, because that one lady from the future got on the plain next to the guy with the virus and somehow stopped him. Other poeple say he just died, just like he saw it happening in his dream. Can someone help me out?

He did not stop the virus from spreading,IMHO. To me, he seemed doomed to replay the same events over and over.

I thought his goal was to locate the virus in its pure form, so that the future scientists could develop a vaccine/cure/whatever so the future people could return to the surface. The virus wasn’t stopped, because the guy who spread it opened the vial at the airport, and let the guard smell it, exposing the guard and starting the chain reaction.

My impression was that the lady was on the place because Cole had located the pure virus, and she was ‘collecting’ it to return to the future with it. But Cole still died in the airport. He was the one that got shot in the airport, in front of his younger self.

I thought that it was just a major twist of irony - 30 years (or whatever it was, it’s been a while since I saw the movie) before she was involved in trying to stop the virus, she was actually sitting on the plane next to the guy who was responsible for it and she’d never know how close she once was…

I agree with Lsura. Bruce Willis discovers the Army of the 12 Monkeys is a red herring used by Brad Pitt to camouflage his true aim of releasing the virus. Willis makes a call at the airport and five minutes later his old cellmate José shows up – it’s only been five minutes for Willis since he called, but 30 years for José.

So Willis has tracked down the “pure” virus. He’s done his job. Too bad he got dead, but that’s war. At first, I thought, as big_yellow_kingswood did, that it was ironic that the scientist was sitting next to Pitt on the plane. But then she said “I’m in insurance” and it became clear that she was not Scientist 1996, but the scientist from the future who returned to get a sample of the virus.

Bear in mind that she cannot change what has occurred, merely establish a location for the virus in its pure form. IIRC correctly the film is based on a French short called La Jettee which is all about time travel by memory.

No, the person releasing the virus was not the Pitt character but his father’s assistant.

Hmmmm… when I saw the movie a few years ago, I just thought that this line meant that in the next 30 years she’ll have a major career change, but I see your point. I haven’t seen the movie since it was in the cinema, which was when I was about 15 or 16.

From memory though, it seemed that she genuinely had no idea who he was or what all the fracas outside in the terminal was about. I think I’ll rent out the DVD and have another look. Maybe I’ll buy it, I can remember how amazingly good I thought the movie was when it came out. I think I’ll rent it first though, just to avoid paying $30 for the “This isn’t as good as i remember” effect.

If you watch the “making of” featurette on the DVD release, Terry Gilliam makes it clear that it is no accident that the woman is seated next to him on the plane.

Hmm, what a great movie. The part I was never sure about is: what is the significance of the old man/hobo who also removed his teeth, and speaks half-clearly to Willis? And is it his voice that we hear a couple of times when nobody is present other than Willis?

There have been prolonged discussions (and arguments) about what the final scene of 12 Monkeys meant. IIRC, at least one of them occurred on this board. Without having heard any of the commentary from Gilliam or the writers, here’s a review of the possible scenarios:

The Happy Ending scenario - The scientist was send back from the future as “an insurance” to complete Cole’s mission. The problem with this theory is that the virus had already been released, although some have argued that the mission was to get a sample not to prevent the release. Another problem is that it would be out of character in a Gilliam film to have the authority figure rescue the world.

The Unhappy Ending scenario - The scientist was send back from the future as “an insurance” to make sure Cole failed in his mission. The theory here being that the scientists did not want to change their present where they ruled what was left of the world. The female scientist went into the past to ensure the virus was released.

The Coincidence scenario - The woman on the plane is the contemporary version of the person who will become the scientist. Her line of being “in insurance” was meant to indicate that she is not a real scientist and the entire mission of reversing the plague was hopeless regardless of whether Cole succeeded or not. This theory is disputed by the fact that woman is the same age as she appeared in the future.

The Insanity scenario - The presence of the woman, who’s “in insurance”, is meant to indicate that all of Cole’s future life was in fact a hallucination based on events he saw in the present. Cole really was insane as many people thought and wasn’t a time traveller.

The Red Herring scenario - The presence of this actress in this scene is like an earlier scene where Brad Pitt played the running man in the airport. It’s just a way for Gilliam to make the movie more confusing.

With Gilliam and time travel, things are bound to get confusing. But overall, I agree with Lsura. In the future, the virus had already been released so I guess they could not prevent that. But their future was still unset so their goal was to capture the virus in its pure form so they could create a cure. Bruce Willis’ character successfully located the original virus, so the doctor from the future went back to get it from the scientist who released it. The result is, the hero dies and the success of the mission still leaves an uncertainty as to whether the doctors in the future can use the pure virus or not to create the cure.

Reminiscent of Gilliam’s confusing ending to Brazil, n’est-ce pas?

Gilliam is not a “Happy Ending” filmmaker. You should also check out Brazil if you enjoyed 12 Monkeys.

I’ve always subscribed to this scenario. The true purpose of the Scientist folks sending people into the past was not to change the “present”, because if the virus was never released they wouldn’t hold the positions of power they obviously held. Instead true purpose was to find the virus in its pure state.

The movie doesn’t really shed much light onto what the Scientist really want to do with virus. But it doesn’t take much to infer that they weren’t undertaking this operation simply to immunize all the survivors. If that was the purpose, the newly healthly survivors would no longer be dependant on the Underground World for their very lives, and thus the Scientists would immediately lose their positions of power. One would imagine that they would immunize themselves and then a select few others, leaving the bulk of the survivors powerless and enslaved, holding out the vaccine as a carrot for “good behaivor”.

My future Ph.D. physicist buddy says 12 Monkeys is the most “accurate” time travel movie ever made. You can’t “change” the future by traveling into the past and doing something. If you travel into the past what you perceive as the “present” is the direct result of whatever mucking around you did in the past. You can’t go back in time and kill your grandfather because if you did you would have never existed in the first place. Cole is fated not to prevent the virus from being released because if he had we wouldn’t have gone back into the past to stop it.

Well, that’s his view, not mine, anyhow.

Since we’re discussing 12 Monkeys, I’m going to hijack this thread. (Muahaha!)

Several times during the film, Madeline Stowe’s character says she remembers Bruce Willis from somewhere but she can’t place it. Now, for much of the film this could be explained that he was in her WWI photograph that she had on her wall.

However, when they are in the movie theatre and Bruce is wearing the cheesy moustache and Hawaiian shirt, she says to him something like, “this is how I remember you.”

It’s never explained.

My theory? There’s about 5 seconds on the cutting room floor in which we see a little girl who vaguely resembles Madeline Stowe ALSO watching the murder at the airport.
(i.e. she was in on the whole thing)

Anyone else have a better idea?

Since I saw the movie a few years back, I have always thought that The Unhappy Scenario was what happened. That is, if you can be sure anything in the movie actually happened.

I read the novelization over the summer (I was in the middle of a veritable book drought), but I don’t have it with me right now. I think it may be able to shed light on a lot of things (the bum with no teeth, insurance, etc)


The problem with both of these scenarios is that it was stated several times in the movie that they never planned to stop the virus, that in fact, since it was in the past, it couldn’t be changed. The stated goal of Cole was to get a pure sample so that the future scientists could develop a cure. I don’t think in that situation the scientists would have to worry about losing their power. I think the human population would be so grateful to get back to the surface that they would gladly keep the ones that accomplished that fact in power.

What I didn’t get about this movie was the use of recorded messages to “talk” to the future. Why didn’t they just listen to all the messages at once and have solutions for every one of Willis’ problems handy?

It has been quite some time since I saw the film, so please forgive me for not being clear on a couple points. First off, I am not sure I understand the points being raised about the scientist’s need to retain power. Where does this come from? I recall the scientists were in charge of Cole, but did not get the impression that they were in charge of society as a whole. I had thought Cole was in jail / an asylum of sorts, and he was brought before the futuristic NIH to be used by them as a pawn. They had power, yes, especially power over Cole, but where in the film does it set them up as rulers dependent on society’s decimation for power?

Also, before reading this thread I had taken the ‘happy’ ending as somewhat of a given. Regardless of what she was there for (to stop the rest of the vials from being opened or to get a pure sample) her comment that she was there for ‘insurance’ was directly related to the rest of the plot.

But how did she know where to sit and who to sit next to? This is the part where my memory is failing, and hope someone will help out. Did Cole ever figure out who the real bio-terrorist is, or just realize that Pitt’s character wasn’t the one? What gave it away? In the phone call where Cole gave himself away did he point the future to the real source of the virus? If not, how did the woman track down the virus? Thanks.


I don’t think the scientists intended Bruce to fail. But his mission wasn’t to stop the virus, it was to get a pure sample so people in the future could be cured. The scientists know that they cannot prevent the virus and change the “past”, but they can “change” their future. So the woman scientist gets the virus, goes back to the future, everybody on earth dies, then they use the virus for a cure.

So it is a sort of happy ending. Bruce dies, but the virus can be cured in the future. Oh, and Brad doesn’t have anything to do with releasing the virus, he was a red herring. His army just released the zoo animals, they had nothing to do with the virus.

He did figure it out. Well actually she did. She(Madelaine Stowe’s character) saw the magazine with Pitts dad and his assistant on the cover and recognized the assistant(she had literally bumped into him a few moments before). The way the scientists from the future were able to figure it out is from when Cole starts shooting at him in the terminal. Between the other agents they had there and the I’m sure news reports about it they were able to figure out who it was.

I’m a strong adherent to the “Unhappy Ending” scenario, primarily because there is absolutely no reason to trust the scientists when they claim they’re were just looking for the pure virus. The leaders treated Cole like shit, so it’s awfully hard to believe that they are altruists.

Further, the scene in the plane clearly indicates that the woman agrees with the man spreading the virus. Also, the people from the future knew the source of the virus before they send Cole back (notice that scene where Cole is in the torture chair – Dr. Goines is clearly visible in a clipping on the wall). If they were honest with Cole, why don’t they tell him to look for the source instead of having him chase the 12 Monkeys?

So you have a bunch of people who are dishonest and somewhat sadistic. Why should anyone trust them? And if you can’t trust them, there can’t be a happy ending.