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Terry Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys

Powerful Essays
Terry Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys

So begins Terry Gilliam’s 1994 film Twelve Monkeys, with what seems an absurd prediction from a man named James Cole who claims to have traveled from the future to gather information about—but not to stop—the near destruction of the human race. Is Cole a paranoid schizophrenic? Dr. Katherine Railly’s diagnosis seems reasonable from her perspective. She sees Cole regress into childish joy when he hears the music of his youth. She knows he is an extremely violent man, an inmate in what he claims to be his present and the murderer of a homeless man in Dr. Railly’s. She knows he has nightmares of witnessing as a child his own death as an adult. And, of course, she’s heard his story of having survived the near destruction of the human race.

Cole’s psychological struggles are severe; so severe that towards the end of the film Cole himself questions whether the time travel and viral epidemic stories are real events or the disturbing inner fictions of his own deeply troubled mind. Cole tells Dr. Railly as the film nears its climax, “I want to become a whole person again. I want this to be the present. I want to stay here. In this time. With you.” Then, falling in love with Cole and desperately hoping against a growing body of evidence that his prophecy is indeed false, Dr. Railly accompanies him to the airport, bound for the Florida Keys to wait out the course of events, to live or die together.

But in the airport Cole and Dr. Railly learn that Cole’s prediction is anything but absurd. Disguised from the police, armed with a revolver and determined now to reverse history and live with Dr. Railly in her present, Cole is shot dead by Philadelphia police—just as he described it—as he runs through...

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...l which is which. The depths of God and God’s true hand in human affairs remain hidden, ineffable, if experienced at all by a human being than only for a brief moment. Once that moment is over we are left, like Job before the whirlwind, like a dying James Cole in the corridor, humbled and often confused, silent before the mystery of the divine.

Works Consulted

McGrath, Alister. Christian Theology: An Introduction. Oxford: 2001.

Musser, Donald W. and Joseph L. Price, eds. A New Handbook of Christian Theology. Nashville: 1992

Neville, Robert Cummings. A Theology Primer. Albany, NY: 1991.

Rahner, Karl. The Content of Faith: The Best of Karl Rahner’s Theological Writings. New York: 1999.

Suchoki, Marjorie Hewitt. God, Christ, Church: A Practical Guide to Process Theology. New York: 1999.

Tillich, Paul. Systematic Theology. Chicago: 1951, 1957.
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