Episode 30: 12 Monkeys

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Back from last episode’s jaunt to rainy climate-changed Korea, Sean and Cody delve into the understandably touchy subject of global pandemics. In Terry Gilliam’s bizarre 1995 time travel thriller 12 Monkeys, chrome-domed con James Cole (Bruce Willis) is sent by his bosses back in time to 1996 to figure out whether a kooky animal rights coalition called the Army of the 12 Monkeys actually juiced the world with the deadly virus that devastated the planet. Cole’s former shrink Dr. Railly (Madeline Stowe) and his ex-roommate in the mental institution (Brad Pitt) seem to have something to do with it, but who knows in this film? The major environmental issue discussed is global pandemics and their effect on history from the early Middle Ages up to the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, and how they compare to the coronavirus.

What’s the definition of a pandemic and how does one spread? What is the link between major pandemics and climate change? Why is Ebola unlikely to become a human extinction event despite being one of the most lethal viruses in the world? What do the Emperor Justinian, Woodrow Wilson and Donald Trump have in common? How do you name-drop a 6th century Greek historian into an episode about a 1990s science fiction film? What does “hungersnot” mean? Why is it usually a bad idea to adapt a New Yorker article into a full-length book? How come Christopher Plummer never got to play a Bond villain? Why is the time travel plot the least interesting thing about this film? All these questions are in line for vaccination appointments in this achy, feverish, socially-distanced episode of Green Screen.

Original trailer for 12 Monkeys. It says it’s HD; I don’t know why the quality is so crappy.

Additional Materials About This Episode

Brad Pitt gives a frenetic, off-the-wall performance as a mental patient in Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys. He was nominated for an Academy Award for this role; he eventually won one for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

More hijinx between Bruce Willis, as time traveler James Cole, and the deranged Jeffrey Goines played by Brad Pitt.

Dr. Railly (Madeline Stowe) and James Cole realize the true mission of the mysterious “Army of the 12 Monkeys,” which proves to be a red herring in terms of the plot.

The Environmental History

Our source for numbers on coronavirus cases:
Robert Verity, Lucy C. Okell, Ilaria Dorigatti et al., “Estimates of the Severity of Coronavirus Disease 2019: A Model-Based Analysis,” The Lancet, Infectious Disesaes, June 2020, 669-677:

John M. Barry, “The Site of Origin of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic and its Public Health Implications,” Journal of Translational Medicine, January 20, 2004:

Walter Shapiro, “How America’s Newspapers Covered Up a Pandemic: The Terrifying, Censored Coverage of the 1918 Spanish Flu,” The New Republic, March 31, 2020:

John M. Barry, The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, Penguin Random House, 2005 (book profile):

Michaeleen Doucleff, “How The Hot Zone Got it Wrong and Other Tales of Ebola’s History,” NPR Goats and Soda (blog), November 11, 2014, interview with science writer David Quammen, quoted in the episode:

Charterhouse Square, London. The bones of over 50,000 victims of the Black Death from the 1340s lie deep under this site to this day. (Google Maps link)

Jessica McClure Rescue

Website of Scott Shaw, Photographer. His Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of the Jessica McClure rescue is the first in his slider of work:

Here is a People Magazine retrospective from 2017 on the 30th anniversary of the Jessica McClure rescue, featuring a brief look at her as an adult.

Rob Woollard, “Lessons of Balloon Hoax Go Unlearned: Analysts,” AFP via Google News, October 20, 2009 (archive link):

Movie Stuff

Alexandra Pollard, “Terry Gilliam: ‘I’m Tired of White Men Being Blamed for Everything Wrong With the World,” The Independent, January 4, 2020:

12 Monkeys (1995) at IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0114746/
12 Monkeys (1995) at Letterboxd: https://letterboxd.com/film/twelve-monkeys/

Next Movie Up: The Dig (2021)

The header image from 12 Monkeys is presumably copyright (c) 2019 by Universal Pictures and/or Atlas Entertainment. Its inclusion here is believed to be permissible under fair use. We are not the uploaders of any YouTube clips embedded here. 

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