Q about 12 Monkeys (spoiler)

I really enjoy this movie and other Gilliam movies. I do have 1 question about the end of the movie, 12 Monkeys-

In the second-to-last scene, the bad guy, holding the container with the virus, takes a seat on the plane. The woman sitting next to him looks very familiar to me. Is she the same woman from the future who is one of the scientists? If so, does her remark to the man on the plane, “I’m in insurance,” refer to her role of insuring this event does not occur? Or, is it a joke, being that she really has no scientific experience? Or, have I simply watched this movie too many times (granted,it took me 3 viewings to finally get the plot)?

It was indeed the woman scientist from the future. It seems to me that she was not so much interested in stopping him as getting a sample of the virus to learn to cure it. (hence, insurance) This is just a guess, but from what I gathered from he movie the scientists were in a position of power. I don’t think they would have been too keen on the idea of changing the past. (even if they could)
I sometimes get the idea that they knew what would happen to James Cole, and perhaps even pushed him along the right path so that he would do what he did.

I’ve gotten to thinking that this is a never ending story. If the scientists are always certain of the outcome, then why do they continue to send Cole back, and send his prison mate along with him to ensure that he stop the virus and terrorists. I mean, if the past cannot be changed, then don’t the scientists already know they cannot affect the virus, get a sample, or change the outcome? The shot that makes me think this is never ending, is the close-up of young Cole watching old Cole. If they’re both in the same place and time, young Cole must know his own continuous fate. Plus, old Cole recognizes young Cole. IMHO, this must be a familiar experience for old Cole. Also, since old Cole dies in the airport, young Cole must be the one who will eventually come back in the future, and so on.

I got the sense that they really couldn’t change the past, so all they could do was send the scientist lady back to get infected with the unmutated form of the virus and bring her back to the “present” so they can develop a cure and go back outside.

My take is that the lady was insuring that the virus was distributed, not to collect a sample of it. That was Cole’s job.

Great movie.

First, yes she is the scientist from the beginning who sent Cole back.

Second, she explains earlier exactly why she is there at the end. She is there to get a sample of the virus before it mutates. The virus in the future had mutated so much, into so many variant forms, that it was not possible to develop a treatment for it. Having a sample of the original virus would enable the scientists to develop a treatment (an innoculation, I believe) that would then be effective against all forms of the virus.

She isn’t there to prevent the disaster. She can’t, the past can’t be changed; it’s already happened. But the future can be affected, because it hasn’t happened yet. She intends to take the virus sample back to her present to ensure a better future.

The key to understanding this is that she says she’s in insurance. Insurance isn’t (primarily) about prevention, it’s about mitigating the effects of a disaster or catestrophic loss. This is exactly what she intends to do, not prevent the disaster, but fix it as best she can.

As to whether they knew what would happen to Cole? I don’t think so. They certainly didn’t care if he survived, so long as he got them the information they wanted. And I don’t think they knew what would happen to him.

Before I launch into my Grand Theory, does anyone remember if the scientist looked younger on the plane then she did in the “present?”
Onward. I believe that taking the airplane scene at face value explains a lot more than assuming that the scientist was time traveling as well. It supports the reason why they were using prisoners as agents: the time travel equipment is unreliable. Can you imagine a member of the ruling class submitting themselves to what Cole went through? It explains the general air of incompentence of the scientist regime. They blather on about how history can’t change, and that Cole shouldn’t try to. But as soon as the oportunity presents itself … they irrationally leap on the airport situation and try to change history. If these were the people that designed the equipment, they would know how it worked. But the airplane scene offers the possibility that these people aren’t the designers of the equipment… they’re simply the people how managed to grab the reigns once everything melted down.
My interperetation (sp?) of the airplane scene offers a simple explanation for the “scientists” behavior.

But if the ruling class doesn’t hold any scientific credentials, then where the hell did the time machine rig come from? I dunno … they’re probably picking up where some old-world govt. research project left off. The level of infrastructure that soon after the collapse is rather suspect as well, maybe the refugees from the plague just stumbled upon that as well. Now, you too can have your own Underground Illuminati Secret Headquarters™, complete with maximum security prison. If you call now, we’ll throw in our cutting edge Illuminati Time Travel Solution™ absolutely free!!

Baseless speculation is fun.


I haven’t seen the movie in question for some time now. I’m probably wrong.

This has ben a public service announcement brought to you by the fine folks of ASKOL, ltd.

So, Has anyone seen La Jetee, the film this is based on?


That’s not the way I look at it. I think that the whole scene already IS history. Whether or not they knew what was going to happen is sort of irrelevent. The fact that old Cole had been having recurring dreams about the incident that he witnessed as a child makes it clear that the event would absolutely take place. This is sort of strange, but I think that this movie is kind of saying that everything in time is intricately mapped out already. The scientists may THINK they’re changing things by sending Cole back, but actually it was predestined that they would do that. The future had already happened. This, I think, is an interesting theory, but I can’t buy into the idea that I have no control over my life and that we as a society have no control over any situations that occur. What’s the point, then? I also think that Number Six’s interpretation is highly plausible.

The main problem in the OP is assuming that the lady was there to stop the virus from being spread. By the time everyone was buckled in their seats, it was too late. The guy with the virus had already opened the sample for security and in the process exposed himself. The most likely scenario is what has already been described, she was there to get a sample of the pure strain.

Gilliam rules.

this made me think, but haven’t thought it all the way thru, so if it’s filled with holes, let me know

If the scientists were in power, as it appeared, and they obviously wouldn’t want to give that up, that idea gives her presence on the plane a sinister edge. Yes, they wanted a sample of the virus, but couldn’t they have also wanted to make sure Cole didn’t try to stop him from getting on the plane? Could her “insurance” statement also allude to they wanted the virus to spread because they knew it would put them in power and while they wanted a sample, they also wanted to ensure the status quo wouldn’t change? If Cole had succeeded, would she have stopped him herself, or at least sent someone to stop him?

Note that the character is referred to (in the credits and in subtitles) as “The Astrophysicist.” She has no scientific basis for intercepting the virus, hence my belief that she’s on the plane to “insure” that it gets spread.

12 Monkeys featured recently in another thread devoted to ‘favourite movies with a twist ending’. Having somehow managed to miss this movie, and being fond of ‘twist’ endings, I rented it.

I enjoy Gilliam’s work, and I enjoyed this. But WHAT twist? All along, we were given to understnad that the Willis character has been sent back in time to either prevent the virus or get a pure sample of it. So we get to the end of the movie and… that’s exactly the situation. So, where is this famous ‘twist’?

I suppose the twist is that the person he saw murdered in the airport in his dreams was himself.

It seems clear to me that the woman is on the plan to ensure that the virus will spread. (As a side note, someone actually in the insurance industry when the plague hit would be sitting pretty; as Tom Lehrer pointed out, “no one will have the endurance to collect on their insurance.”) The spread of the virus is the reason why she was IN the ruling class.

In order to believe she’s there for a benevolent reason, you have to believe that the fact that she treated Cole like shit was meaningless. Cole had no reason to trust that woman, so why should we, the audience?

It’s clear from the film that they >knew< 12 Monkeys had nothing to do with the virus – it was obvious they knew it originated in Dr. Goines’s lab. (Watch carefully for the clipping of Goines that’s on the wall when they torture Cole). Why didn’t they mention this to Cole?

If they are benevolent, why do they keep everyone in cages and torture Cole? Do you really think their actions toward him are the actions of people who just want the best? Or are they more like those of a totalitarian dictatorship intent on keeping their power?

The key question is what reason do you have to trust her explanation for what they were doing?

I must be way too literal-minded, because that’s exactly how I took it. I haven’t seen the movie in a while, but IIRC, doesn’t Cole’s prison-mate find him at the airport based on a phone message he left? The lady scientist still wouldn’t have known who had the virus and which plane they were getting on, would she? I thought it was just meant to be one of those incredible coincidences; she was so close and yet so far. When she said she was in insurance, I took her 100% literally. I assumed she was just a “regular person” who would one day find herself in the unimaginable position of being one of the few people left alive on earth, fumbling around with questionable scientific equipment and theories on a fruitless mission to try to save mankind. If only she had known 20 years ago that she was sitting next to the man who would cause all the world’s woes, she might have been able to do something about it then, but with Cole laying dead in the airport, how could she know?

I assumed it was a tease :slight_smile:

But their operation seemed to chintzy. They even sent him to the wrong year once. Maybe they weren’t benevolent, but I don’t think they were quite the diabolical geniuses people are assuming.

I mean, did Cole really do anything that would ensure that the virus got out? Really, he didn’t affect the spread of the virus in any way, shape, or form. He was too busy stumbling around after Jeffrey. I fail to see how he aided or impeded the spread of the virus.

What about this: If the “scientists” represent the ruling class, and they like to keep it that way, then why would they go back in time to risk messing it up? Not doing anything would be the best way to maintain status quo. If you like things just the way they are, and you find a time machine, wouldn’t it be more logical to smash it than to send people back and forth to potentially mess it up?

Really, I think you all are looking for zebras instead of horses.

Assuming that the cruel treatment of Cole translates into an indifference to the horrible fate of the billions affected by the virus is ludicrous. Yes, they sent Cole on what they assumed would be a suicide mission, for the purpose of trying to save the world. Sacrificing one man, or even a dozen, to save millions or billions is an entirely reasonable thing to do, even for someone whose motives are benevolent.

And interpreting the “insurance” line at the end to mean that she was there to ensure that the virus was spread doesn’t hold up. Though the two words sound alike (they’re not pure homophones, but are certainly very close) ensure and insure mean two completely different things. To ensure is to make certain, to insure is to provide for relief in case of disaster. Listen carefully to what the woman says; it’s “insurance” not “ensurance”.

The simplist explanation is usually the correct one. In this case, the simplist explanation is that she was there to complete the mission Cole was originally given, namely to collect a pure sample of the virus. Cole’s purpose was to lead the scientists to the pure sample, which he eventually did.