Subject: Your Temporal Anomalies Writings
Date: Fri, 23 Oct 1998 07:26:18 -0400
From: Etienne Rouette
Organization: Statistics Canada
I want to thank you for your good work on the Temporal Anomalies web pages. They are very entertaining.
I just have a quick question about 12 monkeys. What about the lady scientist in the plane at the end of the movie? I was under the impression that she was herself from 2030, not herself from 1996. That she had come back from the future, to get a sample of the virus from the Assistant. I mean, why else would Gilliam include such a coincidence? I don't remember her being very young, so I concluded she was the same age as in 2030. She might have been 50 in 2030, but she didn't seem to be 20 or 25 in 1996.
If what I think is true, it causes a problem. She could be contaminated with the virus since it's already been unleashed. Although we can suppose that she's immunized to the virus, she could possibly contaminate someone by going back to the future (maybe children who were not born in 1996, therefore not automatically immunized). But she coudl also bring back a sample of the virus, using it to study the mutated form of the future virus, which could allow the scientists of the future to develop an antidote.
What do you think about that?
Thanks for your note on my Temporal Anomalies site. You raise an excellent question, although it's been raised before in one of the letters in the correspondence section. However, I've given it a lot of thought since it was first asked.
I remember a movie which at one point put its tongue firmly in its cheek, and had the narrator say, "Every movie is allowed one remarkable coincidence; here's ours." It would have been a tremendous irony the way I saw it, that someone in insurance, whether a salesman or an accountant or an actuary, managed to survive the plague and by reason of such education as she had maneuvered herself into a position as one of the "scientists" who ran things, after having been one of the first people to have contacted the villain before the plague began. From an epidemiological viewpoint, it seems likely that she would at that moment have been exposed to such a slight amount of the virus that she might have been able to develop the necessary antibodies for an immunity. It also underscores the notion that the "scientists" in the future are shooting in the dark, with no idea of what they're doing.
But one of my readers didn't see it that way. Like you, he thought that the comment about "insurance" was something of a pun, that the scientist herself had come back and boarded that plane, arranging to have the seat next to the assistant, now identified as the virus carrier. By this view, the "insurance woman" is actually a scientist sent back from the future to "insure" the success of the mission. At that moment, she stands an excellent chance of picking up a small quantity of the virus on herself; the purpose of the mission is known, so she will be isolated as soon as she returns, and the virus sample pulled from her. She's old enough to have lived through this the first time, so she's probably immune. This has a lot of appeal on a different level, relies a lot less on coincidence, and gives the movie the satisfying apparent conclusion that the virus was brought back to the future despite the death of Cole.
But which is the intent? And why did we draw such disparate conclusions?
We have to understand as a starting point that there's no way that the movie could include the same actress at two ages twenty-five years apart. If Gilliam wanted to provide us with an older and a younger version of the same woman, he would either have had to find older and younger actresses who looked and sounded so much alike that he could easily pass them off as the same person at two different ages, or create the illusion of age and youth through make-up and costume. Apart from the difficulty of finding two such persons, the brief appearance of the younger version would have to have been expanded greatly so that we would understand her to be the younger version of the older one. No, the age difference would have to be implied through the appearance of the actress in the two times.
Yet at the same time, the dress and hair and look of the scientist is very obviously austere, perhaps even sterile. Her character is stilted, authoritarian, matronly--she comes across as domineering. I could easily imagine her as sixty; I certainly felt she was older than I (I'm in my 40's), older even than Cole. But am I deceived by the effort to make her appear as a dignified scientific leader into thinking her older than she is? In fact, for her to have any credibility as a "scientist", she must have at least started college before the disaster came, and we've estimated that as 30 to 40 years before. That means the minimum age we can suggest for her in the future is 46--with everything in her favor, supposing she was a brilliant student entering college at 16, and learned enough in her first term that as the world collapsed around her she was selected as one of the scientists of the future, and that Cole is only 38 when he is sent into the past. It is far more likely that our scientist completed college at age 22 before the disaster, and that Cole is not quite 50, 42 years later, so the scientist cannot be younger than 64 at that future end, unless we propose that there is some surviving educational system which has enabled a younger woman to study and advance to become a "leading scientist" after the disaster. No, our scientist is most likely between 50 and 60 in the future.
At the early end, I take her to be younger than that. She could pass for a woman in her late 30's--much too young to be the scientist from the future. Could she be as young as 22? I would not take her for 22. However, there is an intrinsic limit to the degree to which age can be altered by make-up and dress. I can't imagine any age at which a person's apparent age can be convincingly altered by even 30 years, and we're looking at a longer time frame than that. We could not make her look much younger at this end; at the other end, we could not make her look older without calling into question her competence--that is, the aspects of age which could be used to make her appear older would include movement and characterization that suggested forgetfulness and lack of focus along with the inability to effectively move around. But could I be mistaken about her age in the early time appearance? Could she be as old as 50? After all, in this scene part of the point is that she is trying to look like a normal 20th century business woman; she is dressed and made up to fit into our time, and that would intrinsically include an effort to look younger than she is. Forced to this consideration, I could imagine her being as old as 46 (the minimum age established for her future self), possibly a few years older. I could not imagine her as old as 55; but that could be my mistake.
In the end, I have to say that if Gilliam intended for us to believe that the insurance woman had come back from the future to collect the virus, he failed to consider how old she should appear in the past, making her younger than she is, or else failed to make us understand that she was younger in the future than we would suppose. On the other hand, had he intended for us to perceive her as a younger version, perhaps he failed to convey this as well. I have received several letters from people who saw it as you did, but none which supported my perception.
Still, having a great deal of respect for Gilliam's work, my consideration of her age here has caused me to conclude that I was right originally; I had been considering whether your view was correct, but I think that Gilliam could have conveyed that much more clearly if it were.
Thanks again for your letter. If I can answer anything else, let me know--and take a look at the correspondence section of the site for more on this.