When you hear that James Cole is played by Bruce Willis, you think that his character is going to be easy to analyze. C'mon, it's Bruce Willis. He'll play an everyday schmo with extraordinary fighting skillz. He'll also have a quippy one-liner waiting on the wings for any given situation.
James Cole is nothing like your typical Bruce Willis role. He's a time-traveler from the year 2035, so he's hardly an everyday schmo. He can take a hit like it's nobody's business, and dish it back with interest, but he's hardly a superhero. The wounds he sustains are serious matters that require medical attention.
As for those one-liners, they're nonexistent. Cole's got things on his mind that are more important than figuring out how to outwit bad guys.
So if James Cole isn't a carbon copy of John McClane, who is he? Let's find out.
For starters, Cole is a messianic-type character—he's a time-traveling, street-fighting, jazz-loving Jesus. (We know; this film is bonkers.)
Let's start with the basics: James Cole's initials are J.C., same as Jesus Christ. Before you think we're stretching here, note that Cole isn't the only movie character to follow this naming convention. John Connor from the Terminator franchise has the same monogram towels, and he happens to be the savior of humanity, too. Same with John Carpenter in The Day the Earth Stood Still. Oh, and John Coffey from The Green Mile had healing powers. And John Constantine from Constantine battled the minions of hell. And—well, you get the point.
Here are a couple more parallels between Jesus and Cole:
Further cementing the connection, when Cole is killed, he has long flowing locks of hair and his arms are spread wide as he falls to the ground. The scene is meant to mirror Jesus' own death on the cross. His killers are also law enforcement officers, and Jesus' killers were the Roman soldiers who nailed him to the cross, a.k.a. the law enforcement of the day.
Yep, Cole's story sure does feature a bunch of parallels with the story of Jesus.
These parallels set up Cole as a messianic protagonist. These characters tend to be healers, the saviors of humanity, or both. They also tend to have a wisdom or knowledge that isn't available to many. If they're battling an evil force, their knowledge is considered suspect, usually by those in power, because their battles are otherworldly.
Minus the healing part, that's basically Cole in a nutshell. He's trying to save humanity, and his otherworldly knowledge makes him suspect to those in power. Although he lacks the ability to heal, it's not for lack of trying. He does his best to heal all of humanity by stopping the spread of the virus. We'll give him full points for effort.
There's another wrinkle to the Cole character: is he mentally divergent? Early in the film, Cole tells Dr. Railly that he was sent from the future, and she naturally diagnoses him as mentally ill. He is sent to the mental hospital, where he meets L.J. Washington.
Washington introduces him—and the audience—to the idea of mental divergence:
WASHINGTON: It's a condition of mental divergence. I find myself on the planet Ogo. Part of an intellectual elite preparing to subjugate the barbarian hordes on Pluto. But even though this is a totally convincing reality for me in every way, nevertheless, Ogo is actually a construct of my psyche. I am mentally divergent in that I am escaping certain unnamed realities that plague my life here. When I stop going there, I will be well. Are you also divergent, friend?
That final question lingers throughout the film. Is Cole mentally divergent? If so, what "unnamed realities" are plaguing his life?
Cole himself flip-flops on his own understanding of his mental state. In 1990, he tells the psychiatrists that he's not crazy. But in 1996, he says to Railly:
COLE: Wouldn't it be great if I was crazy? Then the world would be okay.
On his third trip back in time, he tells her:
COLE: No, no. It's okay. I'm not crazy anymore. I mean, I am. I'm mentally divergent. I know that now. I want you to help me. I want to get better.
But events transpire that make him change his mind…yet again.
What are we to make of Cole's sanity—or lack thereof? The film provides evidence for both readings. If you think Cole is insane, you can cite that nobody else interacts with people from the future, the scenes taking place in the future are simply from his mental perspective, and any foreknowledge he seems to possess could be good guess work or coincidences.
If you think Cole is telling the truth, you can cite the great escape from the mental hospital, his foreknowledge of Ricky Neuman's prank, and the World War I bullet Dr. Railly pulled from his leg.
Ultimately, it'll be up to you to decide if Cole is "mentally divergent," and it can be fun to switch your perspective with subsequent viewings. By the way, the film is totally open to this. When watching Vertigo, Cole notes:
COLE: It's just like what's happening with us. Like the past. The movie never changes. It can't change. But every time you see it, it seems different because you're different. You see different things.
It's like the film and Cole are giving you permission to change your mind and experiment with any answers.
"No fate but what we make" is one of the most popular lines from another time-traveling science fiction romp, Terminator 2. Through the character of Cole, 12 Monkeys respectfully disagrees with this sentiment.
Cole's journey is a deterministic one; in other words, what's going to happen is going to happen, and there's nothing he can do about it.
Before we get into that, we need to start at the beginning. The film opens with Cole's dream. He's a young boy watching a man being gunned down at an airport. As the film continues, the dream recurs several times, each time slightly different than the last. In one instance, Jeffery Goines appears with a long ponytail and a yellow jacket. In another, a blonde Dr. Railly is clearly seen to be running toward the dead man.
When Cole discusses the dream with Dr. Railly, we learn that it is, in fact, a memory from his childhood:
COLE: You were in my dream just now. Your hair's different. Different color. I'm sure it was you.
RAILLY: What was the dream about?
COLE: About an airport. Before everything happened. It's the same dream I always have. When I was a kid.
RAILLY: And I was in it? What did I do?
COLE [sighs]: You were very upset. You're always very upset in the dream. Just never knew it was you.
RAILLY: It wasn't me before, James. It's become me now because of what's happening. [Sighs.] Could you please untie me?
Why the dream changes is open to interpretation. Perhaps the film is contemplating our lack of objectivity with regards to the past and memory. Or perhaps Cole's actions are changing the past, but the time line is healing itself to ensure that the ultimate outcome, his death, remains the same.
Either way, this dream clues us into Cole's ultimate and inescapable fate. He doesn't recognize himself as the man being killed, but he does realize that the future can't be altered by his time-traveling adventures. As he tells the psychiatrists…
COLE: How can I save you? This already happened. I can't save you. Nobody can.
The same goes for Cole. Even if he doesn't realize it; he can't save himself because his own death has already happened. When it comes to the past, there are no take-backs.
Again, this element of Cole's story singles him out as a Jesus stand-in. Like Jesus, Cole is destined to die. Also, both men try to avoid their fate. Jesus prayed for God to remove the fate of being crucified at the Garden of Gethsemane. Meanwhile, Cole tries to run away with Dr. Railly to the Key West of 1996:
COLE: Listen: I've done my job. I did what you wanted. Good luck. I'm not coming back.
Neither got their wish in that regard, and both ultimately decide to take up their destiny and do what they must.
For Christians, Jesus' death results in the ultimate salvation for mankind. But can the same be said for Cole? That depends on how you read 12 Monkeys' final, enigmatic scene. But we'll leave that discussion for our "What's Up With the Ending?" section since it has no bearing on Cole's character. He's already dead.
All we can say here is we hope it turns out well for the human race, or else Cole has been locked in a time loop where he gets to infinitely witness the nightmarish scene of his own death for no reason.
Wow: there just aren't enough puppy videos on the whole of the internet to make that less depressing.
In a movie filled with time-traveling criminals, apocalyptic fanboys, reality-bending philosophies, and Jeffery Goines, Dr. Kathryn Railly stands out as being blessedly normal.
An intelligent and even-keeled psychiatrist, Railly plays the role of audience surrogate, the character who thinks what the audience would think and asks the questions we would ask. In doing so, she informs the audience even as she informs herself, helping us to keep track of all the story's oddballery.
She first meets James Cole after being asked by Philadelphia police to diagnose his sanity. He tells her he is from the future and he's been sent to gather "information." That's basically all the red flags she needs, so she has him institutionalized at the mental hospital under her care. There, she learns that Cole's mission is to gather information on the Army of the 12 Monkeys to help the future Scientists trace the path of the virus and develop a vaccine.
Based on her time with Cole, Railly develops a theory about people with Cole's condition. Calling it the "Cassandra Complex," she considers people with it to be burdened by reality who replace it with their own "self-inflicted agony" (a definition that closely mirrors L.J. Washington's concept of "mental divergence").
It's worth noting that she uses terms like "agony," "condemned," and "disbelieved" when describing the Cassandra Complex. Clearly, Dr. Railly has more empathy than the other psychiatrists in the film when it comes to her patients. While they appear bored during their interview with Cole, she's genuinely interested and even lets him have the phone call he was denied by others, an act as much out of sympathy as to prove a point.
After being kidnapped by Cole, Railly's role of audience surrogate kicks into full gear. Trying to break through Cole's psyche, she asks him pointed questions designed to elaborate on his time-traveling fantasy. In doing so, she forces him to give the audience exposition to move the story along.
She also counters all of Cole's statements with arguments of her own. For example:
RAILLY: Nobody is going to die. You're not going to save the world, okay? You're delusional. You've made all this up out of bits and pieces in your head.
RAILLY: Yes. Let me give you an example. You know Jeffery Goines. You were both patients at County Hospital.
COLE: Jeffrey Goines was a fruitcake.
RAILLY: And he told you then his father was a famous scientist who worked with viruses. So you've incorporated that bit of information to this cockeyed fantasy.
Railly's arguments are exactly those any sane person would make if put in such a situation. They're the arguments we would make if we weren't watching a fantasy film and left our disbelief at the door. By including them, the film not only gets important exposition out of the way but also adds an air of believability to the proceedings.
Her travels with Cole further demonstrate her ability to care for those with illness, mentally and physically, as well. At one point, Cole leaps from the car to show her graffiti from the Army of the 12 Monkeys. She has the chance to book it but chooses instead to stay and see if she can help Cole with his fantastical worldview.
In a later scene, she removes a bullet from Cole's leg and bandages the wound. We didn't know psychiatrists and medics had such an overlapping skill set…but, lucky for Cole, they do.
In the final third of the film, Railly switches roles and begins to buy into Cole's understanding of the world. In her defense, there's some pretty decent evidence for this change. The bullet she dug out of Cole's leg was about a hundred years old, she sees a picture that seems to feature Cole in the World War I trenches, and Cole was able to accurately predict that Ricky Neuman wasn't stuck in the well but hiding in a barn.
Oh, and the whole James-Cole-vanishing-into-thin-air-twice thing.
Disbelieving her newfound beliefs, she calls Dr. Fletcher:
RAILLY: Psychiatry—it's the latest religion. We decide what's right and wrong. We decide who's crazy or not. I'm in trouble here. I'm losing my faith.
If we extend psychiatry to mean a faith in science and reason over the emotional and subjective, then Railly completely loses her faith when she reunites with Cole.
Lieutenant Halperin wonders if she hasn't succumbed to Stockholm Syndrome, a condition where a captive aligns with his or her captor's mindset.
And there's some evidence to back up this reading. For example, Railly dyes her hair blonde when they go incognito, but this wasn't an original choice by her. Cole had already mentioned that he remembered her as a blonde. Is it possible she altered her hair color to match Cole's memory and please him? Did her empathy backfire, leaving her open to absorbing Cole's delusion?
Whatever the case, Railly and Cole decide they can't alter the course of history and choose to runaway to Key West to live out their days on the beach. Not a bad plan—however, their plan leads them directly to Cole's predetermined fate.
At the airport, Railly bumps into Dr. Peters. Seeing a newspaper picture that reveals Peters as Dr. Goines' assistant, she realizes that he's the one who actually releases the virus. She informs Cole, and the two make a desperate dash to prevent Dr. Peters from boarding the airplane. In their attempt, Cole is shot to death by the police. Railly comforts him as he dies, and the police come to take her away.
As she is being taken away, she sees a young boy watching the events. Realizing this is a young James Cole, she smiles sadly at him. Her fate is unknown, though she likely dies when the virus is released.
All we know for certain is that she can't escape her fate…whatever that may be.
Jeffery Goines is nuttier than a fruitcake. He has bats in the belfry. He has more than one screw loose. In other words—the guy is insane.
And…that's basically the entirety of his character.
Just listen to the way this guy introduces James Cole, his mental hospital roomie, to the television:
GOINES: There's the television. It's all right there. All right there. Look, listen, kneel, prey! The commercials! We're not productive anymore. Don't make things anymore. It's all automated. What are we for then? We're consumers, Jim. Okay, okay. Buy a lot of stuff, you're a good citizen. But if you don't buy a lot of stuff, what are you then? I ask you! What? You're mentally ill. Fact, Jim, Fact!
What are we supposed to do with that? The guy sounds like a freshman spit-balling a philosophy paper after downing four and a half Redbulls.
If you can manage to straighten out his winding manner of speech, you'll find that Goines serves two real purposes: he provides a foil for our protagonist, Cole, and he cooks up a mean red herring.
Like Cole, Goines has some real oddball ideas. He believes, for example, that the psychiatrists in the mental hospital copied his brain into a computer.
You see, the reason for this is…you know what? We'll just let him explain it:
GOINES: When I was institutionalized, my brain was studied inexhaustibly in the guise of mental health. I was interrogated, I was x-rayed, I was examined thoroughly. Then they took everything about me and put it into a computer where they created a model of my mind. Yes! Using that model, they managed to generate every thought I could possibly have in the next, say, ten years, which they then filtered through a probability matrix of some kind to determine everything I was gonna do in that period.
In truth, that's probably as crazy as saying you are from the future to save humanity from a deadly virus, but it's all in the delivery.
Unlike Cole, Goines' delusions have led him to blame the system, and this is where the idea of a "foil" comes in. A foil is a character who provides contrast to another. As such, the nature of Goines' insanity contrasts with Cole's.
Cole wants to save the world and prevent humans from living undergrounds. Goines, on the other hand, doesn't really like the way the world has ended up. His list of complaints is endless but includes television, capitalism, animal rights, and that one guy who keeps sitting in his chair. Cole's motivation is selfless, while Goines just wants to—and we quote—"f**k the bozos."
Also in contrast to Cole's selfless motives, Goines seems to want to strike out against his father, a man he refers to as God at one point. It's unclear what type of relationship the two have, but Goines' grand plan is to set loose animals from the zoo and cage his father in the gorilla enclosure.
Clearly, Goines wants to knock his father down a notch or two.
A red herring isn't a fish. (Okay, it is a fish, and one that is crazy tasty when smoked in Jamaican-style cuisine.) In this context, though, a red herring is something meant to distract you from the actual problem. And Goines serves as a red herring in 12 Monkeys.
While at the asylum, Cole and he watch a program about scientists inhumanely experimenting on animals. Cole offhandedly mentions that maybe the human race should be wiped out. Goines hears this, saying,
GOINES: First, we have to focus on more immediate goals. I didn't say a word about you-know-what.
We also learn that his father is a famous virologist, and the one whose lab produced the virus that eradicated humanity. Cole even has a dream featuring Goines running through the airport as someone chases him. Plus, Goines is super crazy—he must have been the one who did it.
Except he isn't. As we mentioned, his grand plan is to release some animals from the zoo and cage his father in the gorilla enclosure. The culprit is really Dr. Peters, Dr. Goines' lab assistant and a total apocalypse fanboy.
The bait and switch with Goines plays into the film's obsession with perception. Like the Scientists and Cole, the audience goes along with the idea that Goines is responsible because we perceive that he is. But this is just the film toying with our concept of reality within the context of the film. Makes you wonder what other aspects of the film only seem true because we don't know to look at them in a different way.
Maybe, just maybe, Goines is the truly sane one. But probably not.
The Scientists are the oligarchical rulers of the future. Their rule is based on their ability to wield the powers of science, and their mission statement is to return the human race to the planet's surface. Which sounds great, right? Science is great. Scientific discoveries are great.
Who wouldn't want a panel of Neil deGrasse Tysons running things?
But there are several sinister qualities that make the Scientists…off-putting. First, they lack all individuality. They operate, think, and make decisions as a unit. They don't even have, or at least use, individual names. Each one is known simply by his or her title, as though their entire personality were wrapped up in their professional identity.
Also, these guys rule the future. They have Cole brought before them as part of a program where prisoners are sent back in time to gather information on the virus that wrecked humanity's time in the sun. They have the power to offer Cole a pardon for his cooperation, making it clear that they operate not just as scientists, but also as the judicial system of their society. Even worse, that cooperation essentially makes Cole a guinea pig, something to be experimented on, something less than human.
As a symbol, we wouldn't say the Scientists are anti-science. As we mentioned, their goal is to help humanity as a whole, even if they mess up individual humans along the way. And that's an admirable goal. Rather, we'd say they symbolize a blind worship of science and its awesome capabilities (Dr. Railly even refers to psychiatry, a branch of science, as the "latest religion").
The telling line is given to us by the man with the raspy voice. As he tells Cole,
MAN WITH RASPY VOICE: Science ain't an exact science with these clowns, but they're getting better.
The first time they send Cole back in time, they send him to 1990, not the target year of 1996. They aren't even aware that they messed up until Cole returns:
BOTANIST: Weak signal. We have to put them together one word at a time like jigsaw puzzles.
ASTROPHYSICIST: We just finished rebuilding this. Did you or did you not make that call?
COLE: I couldn't make any call. You sent me to the wrong year. It was 1990.
MICROBIOLOGIST: You're certain of that?
Worse, when they try it again, they tell Cole they're sending him to 1996, "right on the money." And they do get him to 1996, but not before a near-fatal detour to France during World War I.
In the end, the Scientists are simply human, capable of error like the rest of us. Unlike the rest of us, the Scientists are experimenting with things like time and human lives, and the powers of science have given them domain over nature in ways that are too domineering for creatures that are a part of nature.
When these guys make mistakes, they aren't the types of things where a "Whoops, my bad!" will adequately cover you. Unfortunately, the best the Scientists seem able to muster in such situations is exactly that.
Who's the man with the raspy voice? We're honestly asking here.
(Why else would we call him "the man with the raspy voice"? It was either that or go with some dad-level pun like "Rasputin.")
Put as clearly as possible, the man with the raspy may or may not be an invention of Cole's mind. He is so enigmatic that he even offers the possibility of his own fictitiousness:
MAN WITH RASPY VOICE: Maybe means maybe I'm in the next cell. Another volunteer like you. Or maybe I'm in the Central Office, spying on ya for all those science bozos. Or hey, maybe I'm not even here. Maybe I'm just in your head. No way to confirm anything.
No way, indeed.
The man speaks to Cole—either through the vents or in Cole's head—during Cole's various recoveries in the year 2035. He taunts Cole and offers him advice in equal measure. If he is a real person, then his goal appears to be to guide Cole, either in line with the Scientists' goals or to obstruct them. We can't say for certain.
If he's an invention of Cole's mind, then his purpose is to be a personification of Cole's inner conflict. When Cole says he doesn't know what he wants, for example, the man with the raspy voice replies that he knows exactly what Cole wants. That is,
MAN WITH RASPY VOICE: To be topside. Breath the air. To be with…her. Isn't that right? Isn't that what you want? Bob?
Immediately after this conversation, Cole hatches his plan to trick the scientists into sending him back in time so he can be with Dr. Railly.
So it seems likely that the man is a part of Cole's fractured personality, and their conversations are Cole's way of sorting out his own mind. Basically, he's talking to himself.
Now, we hear some of you asking, "But what about that homeless man in 1996?" While it is true that the homeless man sounds a lot like the man with the raspy voice, there is no way to know if they are the same guy. The homeless guy tells Cole that they have a tracking device in his teeth. But when Cole talks to him directly, he shirks away, frightened, as though he doesn't know Cole.
Later, in 2035, the man with the raspy voice contradicts the homeless man from 1996:
COLE: I saw you…in 1996, in the real world. You pulled out your teeth.
MAN WITH RASPY VOICE: Why would I pull out my teeth, Bob? That's a no-no. And when did you say you saw me? In 1872?
But it is also entirely possible the two are the same person, and like a typical time-traveler in 12 Monkeys, he has become unhinged and mentally fragmented across the timeline.
Of course, we know you've come here seeking answers, something solid to ground your conversations on when talking about 12 Monkeys. Lucky for you, we've got one a solid fact: this guy could use a throat lozenge. Sorry if that's a bit underwhelming, but when it comes to this character, that's about as solid as any fact can be.
You have to feel a bit sorry for Dr. Goines. After all, he's the father of Jeffery Goines.
Dr. Goines is the virologist who created the virus that will nearly wipe out humanity in 1997. In his defense, he only engineered the deadly, highly contagious disease with no proper cure. He didn't expect to actually use it…a fact that has made many a viewer scream, "Then why did you invent the thing in the first place?"
Despite such cries of logic, no answer is provided in the film, so your guess is as good as ours. Even so, Dr. Goines is aware of the responsibility he bears. When we first meet him, he's speaking at a dinner in his honor. During the speech, he states,
DR. GOINES: But, alas, I am burdened. For with all this excess of public attention and cacophony of praise there comes great responsibility. Now I don't have to tell you all that the dangers of science are a timeworn threat.
And those aren't just idle words. When Dr. Railly calls to warn him that Jeffery plans to steal a virus, Dr. Goines calls the claim preposterous but decides to play it safe and upgrade his lab's security procedures. In short, he's aware of the dangers of his research and does everything he can to contain them. He just didn't realize his right-hand man was an apocalypse fanboy.
In the end, it's a difficult question as to whether or not to assign Dr. Goines moral blame. He knows he's tampering with dangerous forces, yet he works to mitigate the dangers. He trusts others to do what is right, yet his trust is misplaced in Dr. Peters and Jeffery.
Can you blame the gun manufacturer as readily as you blame the shooter? That's the question we'd have to answer when considering Dr. Goines' character in 12 Monkeys, and that's a question viewers will have to answer for themselves.
So…yeah. Good luck with that one.
You know how the Empire in Star Wars keeps constructing big, flashy doomsday machines to wipe out planets? Those things probably cost the taxpayers billions, and each time, the engineers keep including fatal weak spots that somehow aren't corrected during the design phase. The Empire seriously needs to start outsourcing to some independent contractors, because its employees just aren't up to the task.
We bring up the various Death Stars because Dr. Peters totally out-evils the Empire at a fraction of the cost. With only a degree in virology and a wee bit of genetic engineering, he and Dr. Goines managed to create a virus so deadly that it wipes out almost all of human life on earth. As a bonus, to release his doomsday weapon, Peters gets to enjoy a globetrotting vacation.
Unfortunately, we don't know much about Peters' character. He operates secretly for most of the film because Jeffery Goines is the prime suspect. What we do know is that he loves nature and fears that humanity has irrevocably damaged the planet. As he tells Dr. Railly during her book signing:
DR. PETERS: Surely there's very real and very convincing data that the planet cannot survive the excesses of the human race.
And Peters has sided with mother nature.
Rather than write a book to try to change people's habits or go into politics to craft environment-protecting legislation, Peters just decides wiping out the human race will be easier. So he steals a virus from Dr. Goines' lab and does just that.
We have to admit: what it lacks in nuance and empathy, it certainly makes up for in pure, devastating impact. The Empire salutes you, Dr. Peters. Tell us, do you have any viruses that'll take care of an Ewok infestation?
We learn two very important things from L.J. Washington. First, there's at least one guy who can totally rock the suit 'n' slippers style. Second, Washington introduces us to the idea of mental divergence.
Here's his spiel in its entirety:
L.J. WASHINGTON: It's a condition of mental divergence. I find myself on the planet Ogo. Part of an intellectual elite preparing to subjugate the barbarian hordes on Pluto. But even though this is a totally convincing reality for me in every way, nevertheless, Ogo is actually a construct of my psyche. I am mentally divergent in that I am escaping certain unnamed realities that plague my life here. When I stop going there, I will be well. Are you also divergent, friend?
That final question haunts Cole, and the audience, for the rest of the film. Is Cole mentally divergent? Is the future of 2035 his Planet Ogo? And if so, what "unnamed realities" have plagued Cole's life so he would invent such a reality? We don't get any answers to these questions, and the film offers us enough evidence to craft multiple, conflicting readings.
As for Washington, he disappears from the film once he plants that seed of doubt in our minds. We don't hold it against him though, as it makes Cole's story all the more interesting.
In fact, we'll even wish him the best of luck with those barbarian hordes on Pluto. That sounds like a tough gig.
Teddy, Fale, and Bee are Jeffery Goines' lackeys in the Army of the 12 Monkeys, and these three should really learn to assert themselves. They just let people walk all over them.
We first meet them when Cole believes he's found the hideout of the Army of the 12 Monkeys. Cole barges in and ties them up, and they spill their guts about their association with Goines. To be fair, Cole has a gun and can be pretty intimidating even without one. We'd tell him what he wants to know, too.
They claim they have broken ties with Goines because his methods were too extreme, and they felt his actions were counterproductive to the cause.
Later, Goines manages to reassert himself as their leader. Fale in particular seems concerned that a crazy person is leading them while his kidnapped psychiatrist is knocking at their door to talk.
But we don't find out what becomes of them—this is the last we see the three. They don't join Goines in his "master plan," which, spoiler warning, technically is a plan but the qualifier "master" seems a bit much. So it's probably good they skipped.
The evangelist is a homeless man who preaches on the streets of Philadelphia. As you can probably guess, his set list includes all the hits from the Book of Revelations and not much else. (Why is it that street evangelists love Revelations so much? You'd think they would throw in some Ecclesiastes, if only to mix things up.)
But this guy's jam is Revelations, specifically 15:7, which goes a little something like this:
EVANGELIST: One of the four beasts gave unto the seven angels seven golden vials full of the wrath of God, who liveth forever and ever.
You may have noticed that this is the same verse quoted by Dr. Railly during her seminar, and it touches upon many of the story elements of 12 Monkeys—namely disease, the end of the world, and foretelling future events.
The movie uses the character to poke a little fun at our society. If we hear these ideas coming from a homeless man, we think he's crazy. If we read the ideas in a 1,000-year-old book and millions of people believe it, then we enshrine them as religion.
There's also a little mystery surrounding the street evangelist. The movie hints that he may be a time-traveler but never directly says so.
When he spies Cole in the streets, he shouts out to him, "You. You! You're one of us!" What does he mean by this? Does he mean that he recognizes Cole as a citizen of the future? Or perhaps only that he recognizes Cole as a fellow mentally divergent? We never find out.
As an added wrinkle, the street evangelist looks a lot like the 14th-century doomsayer from Railly's presentation. Said doomsayer used "unfamiliar words and [spoke] in a strange accent" and "made dire prognostications about pestilence, which he said would wipe out humanity in approximately 600 years." These characteristics would fit a time-traveler and line up with the street evangelist's sermon, too.
Or we could chalk it up as huge coincidence. What do you think?
Dr. Fletcher is Dr. Railly's boss at the county mental hospital. His role in life—or, at least, his role in the movie—is to be a foil for Dr. Railly. That is, he is a character who provides contrast for Dr. Railly and the changes she undergoes.
Throughout the story, Dr. Railly slowly begins to lose her sense of what's real and stops judging her decisions on the basis of rationality. In her own terms, she is "losing [her] faith" in psychiatry and science. In contrast, Dr. Fletcher is an unwavering shoulder angel for Dr. Railly; only instead of being a voice for good or evil, he is the voice of reason.
We first see this when Cole is in the mental hospital. Railly doesn't restrain him as she should, and Cole makes a break for it, injuring several people in the escape attempt. Dr. Fletcher rightly and reasonably talks with her and points out she made a mistake.
When Cole does escape, Fletcher can't believe the orderly's story because a fully restrained patient shouldn't have been able to climb through a one-foot-by-one-foot air vent. The idea that the orderly may have been telling the truth doesn't even cross his mind.
Later, when Dr. Railly is on the brink of believing Cole's story, she calls Dr. Fletcher to talk to him. Despite her claims that Cole knew about the boy hiding in the barn, Fletcher soundly asserts:
DR. FLETCHER: No way he could possibly know that. Kathryn. You're a rational person. You're a trained psychiatrist. You know the difference between what's real and what's not.
Unfortunately, he fails at his job of being a rational-trumping shoulder angel. Railly doesn't take him up on this advice, and what's real and what's not becomes less clear for her than it does for his ever-rational mind.
Jose is Cole's fellow inmate and is later conscripted—sorry, "volunteered"—to become a time-traveler. His job, like Cole's, is to find information that could lead the Scientists to find a pure form of the virus.
Also like Cole, his job is the pits.
He appears briefly in the World War I trenches, screaming, "I gotta find 'em! I gotta find 'em!" Presumably, the "'em" in question is the Army of the 12 Monkeys. His fate remains a mystery until late in the film, when he reappears at the airport, looking way worse for wear thanks to his time-traveling adventures.
At the airport, he delivers a message to Cole and that message comes with a free gun. He tells Cole to shoot the man who will release the virus, or Jose will have to shoot Railly. Cole initially tries to choke out Jose but then notices the Geologist in the crowd, and Jose admits,
JOSE: You see? I had no choice. These are my orders, man.
This scene ties nicely into the film's themes of power and determinism. Again, like Cole, Jose lacks the power to make his own decisions. He's just a pawn on the board, a cog in the machine, a…um, other cliché that means the same thing.
Unlike Cole, he doesn't try to fight it. He accepts his role and does what he needs to do to survive. Although we don't know his ultimate fate, we're guessing it ended with fewer bullets in the back than Cole's.
Christopher Meloni is a fantastic actor, but he also qualifies as a "that guy" actor. By which we mean, every time he shows up on screen you say aloud, "Hey, it's that guy," and then promptly forget to look up his name on IMDb.
Six months later, you see him again, exclaim that it is indeed that guy, and forget to look him up.
In 12 Monkeys, Meloni plays Lieutenant Halperin, who is definitely a "that guy" character. Halperin is tasked with investigating Dr. Railly's abduction by James Cole. Halperin questions Railly about the abduction, and we're pretty sure Railly is thinking the whole time, "Hey, I know this guy."
During the interview, he not-so-subtly suggests Railly may be suffering from Stockholm syndrome. Later on, he calls her to update her on the case.
And that's that. Halperin disappears from the film after that, never to be heard of again. And Railly, busy with other things, forgets to figure out where she's seen that guy before.