Humankind has a real love-hate relationship with the natural world in 12 Monkeys. On the one hand, nature is seen in almost villainous terms. Viruses and diseases have always been the movers and shakers of natural history on earth, and their campaigns aren't devised for our benefit. In 12 Monkeys, a fictional virus decimates humankind and kicks off a dystopian future where animals control the surface, while humans live underground. People battle nature in our modern world with the power of science, sometimes conquering it, sometimes not.
On the other hand, the film hints that nature can be therapeutic, too. Cole dreams of seeing the ocean, and scenes featuring natural imagery see the character at peace or, at the very least, content. Unfortunately, nature in its therapeutic state always seems out of reach from Cole and the people trapped in the modern American cityscape.
Questions About Man and the Natural World
- How would you describe the relationship between man and nature in the film? Is it antagonistic? Mutually beneficial? Something between the two extremes?
- Which character would you say is most in-tune with nature? Why? Why is this character important in understanding this theme? If you don't think such characters are present, then please explain why they are excluded from the story.
- Although he is hardly effective, do you think Jeffery Goines' heart is in the right place regarding nature? Why or why not?
Chew on This
The future society looks at nature as having conquered humanity and forced it underground. However, no animals are shown to harm a person in the film, while the reverse is not true. Although widely reported on, we don't even see the virus take anyone down. All we witness is human-on-human harm.
The many commercials for the Florida Keys are not only a subtle foreshadowing to the film's ending, but also the film's call away from the city and toward nature.