12 Monkeys: The hidden sub-plot you didn’t spot

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by on March 25, 2014

In Terry Gilliam’s excellent 12 Monkeys, did you know there was a hidden subplot relating to the scientists of the future that questions their reliability and integrity? The repercussions of this secret story-line has massive implications for the entire movie. Can we trust the scientists and anything they have said?

Since publishing the official 12 Monkeys Time Travel Timelines post we have been inundated with opinions about whether the movie obeys the fixed or multiple timelines theory. Guide Bites’ movie guru Ben Reed maintains that the integrity of the scientists is at stake.

Fixed timelines in 12 Monkeys.

The scientists insist that the past cannot be changed, that it is fixed. You can’t stop the scientist spreading the virus, because the virus has already been spread. Cole’s mission must be, therefore, to collect data rather than attempt to change the past.

But the scientists have the most to lose from Cole changing the past (implying time travel uses multiple universes). If the past could be altered and the virus wasn’t spread, then the entire future, including the scientists’ positions of privilege and power would be destroyed.

Is their any evidence that the scientists cannot be trusted, that they are insisting the past cannot be altered to protect their positions of power? Is their narrative false? Can the past be changed in 12 Monkeys?

This would mean that the film obeyed multiple timelines and it is possible to view the film as using them. Multiple timelines answer the need to have an original timeline prior to any time traveling having occurred.

  1. Fixed timelines do not obey the principle of cause and effect – there must be an original timeline when there was no time-travelling. This eradicates messy paradoxes.
  2. The answerphone! This is the best clue yet. How would time travellers know to phone a carpet cleaning company to leave messages to be recovered in three decades time?
    Answer: In the original timeline, a  2036 mission to the Earth’s surface recovered an empty answerphone and the scientists decided to monitor it for new messages each time they send a time traveller back in time. Otherwise where did the answerphone come from and how would Cole know to phone a random number?
  3. It is perfectly possible to assemble the film into a coherent set of timelines which do not contradict a single aspect of the film.

Finally, the aspect which calls the integrity of the scientists into doubt, and the existence of the hidden subplot!

Jose’s gun: At the airport, Jose hands Cole a gun to shoot the red haired guy.

Why does he do this?

The scientists have stated that he cannot change events of the past and his mission is not to kill the red haired man.

But of even greater importance, it isn’t any ordinary gun. It is a LeMat Revolver – which is a Confederate gun from the American Civil War.

Of all the guns to choose from in the world, Gilliam gives Jose a LeMat. So we can begin to see Jose and Cole as rebelling against the orders of the scientists.

Perhaps it is possible to change past events after all.

Perhaps the scientists know that it is possible to change time but are keenly aware that doing so would destroy their timeline and their positions of power.

Thanks for that, but what was the hidden sub-plot?

The scientists you dummy! They are lying. The past can be changed – it would just destroy their present, in which they hold positions of power. Jose giving Cole a gun from the American Civil War shows that the prisoners of the future are planning to rebel against scientists rule… or even prevent that future from ever happening.

But Cole does die doesn’t he?

Yes – his attempt to kill the guy fails – which is a fact that can sit wonderfully in both theories

What an incredible film!


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