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Temporal Anomalies

Main Page
Discussing Time Travel Theory
Other Films
Perpetual Barbecue
About the Author
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See also entries under the
Temporal Anomalies/Time Travel
category of the
mark Joseph "young"
web log
elsewhere on this site.

Quick Jumps

Original Timeline
1st Altered Timeline
2nd Altered Timeline
3rd Altered Timeline
4th Altered Timeline
5th Altered Timeline
6th Altered Timeline
Final Altered Timeline

Movies Analyzed
in order examined

    Addendum to Terminator
    Terminator 3:  Rise of the Machines
    Terminator Recap
    Terminator Salvation
    Terminator Genisys
    Terminator:  Dark Fate
Back To The Future
Back To The Future II
Back To The Future III
Star Trek Introduction
    Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
    Star Trek: Generations
    Star Trek: First Contact
    Star Trek (2009)
12 Monkeys
    Addendum to 12 Monkeys
Flight Of The Navigator
  Flight Of The Navigator Addendum
Army of Darkness
Lost In Space
Peggy Sue Got Married
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure
Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey
Planet of the Apes
Kate and Leopold
Somewhere In Time
The Time Machine
Minority Report
Happy Accidents
The Final Countdown
Donnie Darko
  S. Darko
Harry Potter and
    the Prisoner of Azkaban

Deja Vu
    Primer Questions
Bender's Big Score
Popular Christmas Movies
The Butterfly Effect
  The Butterfly Effect 2
  The Butterfly Effect 3:  Revelations
The Last Mimzy
The Lake House
The Time Traveler's Wife
The Hot Tub Time Machine
Los Cronocrimines a.k.a. TimeCrimes
A Sound of Thundrer
Frequently Asked Questions
    About Time Travel

Source Code
Blackadder Back & Forth
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III
11 Minutes Ago
Men in Black III
La Jetée
Midnight in Paris
Meet the Robinsons
H. G. Wells' The Time Machine
The Jacket
Safety Not Guaranteed
The Philadelphia Experiment
    The Philadelphia Experiment II
Time After Time
About Time
Free Birds
X-Men:  Days of Future Past
Edge of Tomorrow
Mr. Peabody & Sherman
Project Almanac
Time Lapse
O Homem Do Futuro
    a.k.a. The Man from the Future

Abby Sen
When We First Met
See You Yesterday
The History of Time Travel
Copyright Information

The temporal anomaly terminology used here is drawn from Appendix 11:  Temporal Anomalies of Multiverser from Valdron Inc, and is illustrated on the home page of this web site.  This site is part of M. J. Young Net.

Books by the Author.

The Book

Temporal Anomalies in Time Travel Movies
12 Monkeys

It proved to be a rare gem among time travel movies:  a film which played with time and seemed to make no mistakes.  It took me weeks before I found the glitch in 12 Monkeys.


Even that glitch was a minor problem, easily resolved with the principles developed for tracing divergent/parallel time lines.  But what made the movie work so well?  The main answer is in two pieces.  First, right from the beginning the only history which is told is the final alternate history, the history of the last ultimately resolved time line.  Second, those in the future do not know the entire history, and are sending people back in large part to discover it.  Without a temporal viewer of any type, they cannot discover history without changing it, and therefore the history they discover is the one which they have created.

The time machine used is a projector/collector set up with spatial coordinates, much like that used in Millennium, except that the inventors have far less control of it.  They send someone back into the past, and then retrieve him.  Although they can track much of his movements in the past and pull him back to the future as desired, they cannot confirm the date to which he arrives, and don't seem to require knowledge of the time or place from which he is recovered (an odd system never fully explained; perhaps it is timer-based, allowing the traveler a specified amount of time in the past before recalling him, thus calculating his time from the time of his arrival rather than from the absolute calendar or relationship to the present).

As with Millennium, it is suggested in the film that there have been other time trips before the film opens; in this case, they have been made by other travelers, and will continue to be made concurrently with those of the main character.  This strikes me as hazardous temporally--with multiple persons visiting the same point in history from different points in the future, the probability of interaction disrupting the time line grows exponentially.  However, they are all on fact-finding missions, sent as observers, so there is very little they will be likely to do to change the world.

It is another aspect of the film that it creates an air of anonymity around many of the players; although a glance at the credits suggests these characters have names, the names of several of them are never mentioned during the film.  This enhances the mystery around the history.  For example, does anyone know the name of the man who ultimately releases the virus?  We know much about who he is and why he did it, but after several viewings specifically looking for it, I am convinced that his name is not mentioned in the script at all.  It is lost to us as it is to history, a very nice style device.  We will have to call him Dr. Goines' assistant, or just the assistant for short.

In unraveling the time lines here, I was tempted to work backwards; however, it would require too much backgrounding to do it that way, so I am going to attempt to reconstruct the original time line first, the sequence of events never seen in the film which led to the original situation.  It contains some surprises, and you might not understand it fully at first, but I'll ask you to trust me.  If you've already read the work on Terminator, Back to the Future, Millennium, and Star Trek, then perhaps you are willing to give me the benefit of the doubt as I present to you a story which will seem completely unfamiliar, and then allow me to explain it.

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Original Timeline

There are many minor points in history which will have been erased.  An apocalyptic prophet in 1562 (to whom we will refer as the prophet), a wounded madman in World War I (who figures elsewhere in the film and is named Jose), a bum on the streets of Philadelphia in 1996, and others unknown to us.  Some of these doomsday criers have had a minor impact on history, appearing in history books and in obscure journals and lectures.  Although they may be insignificant in the grand scheme of things, they are quite important to the story.  Dr. Kathryn Railly has collected many of these stories for her book, Madness and Apocalyptic Visions, in which she discusses the Cassandra complex, the agony of those who predict the future and are not believed.  To her, these are all stories of people suffering from various insanities (some of whom she has no doubt diagnosed, quite certain in her own psychiatric arrogance that she knows the truth of the matter from years away) which involve them in the belief that they know of a future in which the world is destroyed.  Without those stories, she will never write the book; without the book, she never encounters the assistant to know that he is an "apocalypse nut", and the end of the movie is not possible.  Dr. Kathryn Railly's focus is in another area; she knows nothing of apocalyptic visions beyond any other psychiatrist.

In this time line, there is no James Cole event.  Jeffrey Goines is an intermittent mental patient (we are impressed with how crazy he is, but never given a diagnosis).  Rebelling against the research programs of his father, Nobel prize-winning virologist Dr. Leland Goines, he becomes involved in animal rights activism.  Because the intelligence of mob-type groups is lower than the average intelligence of the individuals within, he is able to create a separate group, the Army of the Twelve Monkeys, which has as its objectives violent activism on behalf of animals.  They release a hundred rattle snakes in the United States Senate.  Ultimately, they pull off a grand coup, kidnapping Dr. Goines, releasing all of the animals from the Philadelphia Zoo, and locking the famed scientist in one of the cages.  Using spray paint, they splash their complex image all over the city, taking credit for the action with the words "We Did It!", and their own group name, the Army of the 12 Monkeys.

At this point the original time line becomes a bit fuzzy.  I can tell you what did not happen, and from that I can extrapolate some of what must have happened instead; but there are critical details missing from the mix which I cannot easily resolve.  Kathryn Railly did not call Leland Goines.  Therefore Dr. Goines did not consider Jeffrey dangerous, and did not change the security details surrounding the control of infectious organisms.  The assistant therefore did not get access to these organisms, and did not take them to Philadelphia International Airport and begin spreading them around the world.  The young James Cole, perhaps six years old in 1996, did not see a man shot in the airport, and did not see Dr. Kathryn Railly, in disguise, running to him.  All of those events are dependent upon the return of James Cole from the future, and therefore cannot have happened in the original time line.

So what did happen?  In the minds of traditional temporal theorists, this is impossible; if the assistant could not have released the virus, it was not released, and James Cole cannot cause it to be released by coming back to find out how it happened (if it didn't happen, no one will investigate how it did), so it will not be released.  By this view, Cole's world is an impossibility:  it cannot exist unless it exists, and therefore it cannot exist.  But the solution to such paradoxes lies in the timelines theories explained here (drawn from the Multiverser game system, published by Valdron Inc, and used by permission):

If something in the present time line is caused by a time traveler from the future, then we are not in the original time line, but in the C-D (or subsequent) segment.  In the A-B segment, the critical events were the result of a different and now historically undiscoverable chain.

It is important to understand this.  Any information about how the virus was originally released has been erased by the actions of Dr. Goines, based on the actions of Dr. Railly, based on the statements of James Cole, based on knowledge of the future.  The historic timeline we are watching has been altered multiple times from the original history, and those changes include the security arrangements surrounding the virus.

However, some fragments of the history must be maintained for the future to be coherent.  Just as the 12 Monkeys will release their animals, someone must release the virus.  It might not be the same virus--it need only be virulent enough to kill a substantial segment of the population and bring about the desire to track its release in the past.  It need not be intentionally released--it need only be transmitted in a central location such as an international airport, and transmissible enough that it will spread to passengers and flight crew members headed throughout the world.  It does not have to be released on the date recorded--December 13, 1996--as long as it will create the future scenario with reasonable similarity in the time allotted.  A few people need to survive specifically; one of these is James Cole.

The least flexible of these variables is the time.  It is necessary that the virus be released close enough to the release of the animals from the zoo that those in the future, not knowing more than that some group called the 12 Monkeys plastered up signs taking credit for something that happened at about that time, will attribute to them the release of the virus.  That, you see, is the next step in the original time line:  the population of the world is decimated by the virus, the survivors move underground and establish a "permanent emergency".  Their investigations of the disaster turn up the grafitti of the young rebels, and they conclude that this paramilitary organization "did it":  released the virus which destroyed the world.  Failing to find any way of dealing with the virus in its mutated form (virii have a strong tendency to change--that's why the flu is different every year, and you're never completely immune), they stumble on a way to send people to the past and return them to the present, and to track them to some degree while they are in the past, and begin a program of exploratory missions to track the identity of the 12 Monkeys and the origins of the virus.  They begin sending others back--Cole is clearly not the first--and attempt to refine their time travel techniques.

Some of the apocalyptic history fragments on which Dr. Railly bases her book may have fallen into place before Cole meets her; others clearly will not have done so.  I suspect that the prophet may have been preaching in 1562.  It is even possible that Jose will have been wounded in World War I.  However, I count this as highly unlikely:  when James is removed for his first bit of "volunteer" duty, Jose knows nothing of what it entails.  Although James first goes to the surface to explore the abandoned world of the past, it is improbable that Jose would be sent back in time before James' first trip (he, too, would be tested on missions to the surface).  Therefore, I would conclude that that fragment is not yet part of Kathryn Railly's knowledge.  However, there will have been other fragments, other failed attempts to deliver observers to 1996 which resulted in pieces of "apocalyptic madness" for Dr. Railly to record in her book.  It is at this point in our time lines that Kathryn Railly first encounters the assistant; it is the C-D segment of perhaps a dozen N-jumps (illustrated on the introductory page) created by time travelers landing in the wrong era and changing only pieces of history.

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1st Altered Timeline

James Cole then makes his first trip into the past.  He lands in 1990.  Confused and disoriented (as well as naked--apparently taking a misguided cue from Terminator, this time machine does not transport clothes or materials, doubly mistaken in this case, since they intend for their travelers to bring back materials from the past; but they never actually say that it is the case, they only imply it), he is grabbed by police, taken to lock-up, and put in a mental hospital; in the process he meets Kathryn Railly, and also Jeffrey Goines.

At this point in the recurring time lines, Kathryn Railly does not recognize James Cole.  That picture which she has in her files cannot possibly exist.  This will have some small effect on the way she treats him (she won't be trying to remember why he looks familiar).  He is quickly labeled--er, diagnosed--as mentally divergent, makes a dramatic escape attempt, is locked in a room in restraints and sedated, and vanishes; and in this time line he is never seen again.  The remainder of the time line will be unaltered; the unknown mystery individual will release a virus at the unknown time.  Although Cole will have spoken of the 12 Monkeys and the release of the virus to several key players, it should have little effect on the future, as none of them are critical to the actual release of the virus in any time line.

In the future we encounter a new character.  I'm estimating the future to be around 2030; my assumptions are that James is between 4 and 8 at the time of the airport shooting; since he can already read and write (but not well) I would guess 6.  At the time he is sent back, he is about 40, plus or minus 7 years.  Given these numbers, the date is not earlier than 2021 nor later than 2039, precisely 2030 if he was 6 in 1996 and 40 at the time he is sent back.  The new character is only heard in 2030, and is not named; however, he calls James "Bob", so we will refer to him as Bob.  At this point, it is clear that Bob is a bit crazy himself, but seems to have made at least one time trip already.  His input is not important at this time, except that he is present in 2030.  Meanwhile, Jose has been removed from the cell adjacent to Cole's, and sent back in time, landing in a French trench in World War I, being shot, and having his picture taken.  He makes history in a small way, coming to the attention of Dr. Railly, who includes him as her story of the French soldier who in his madness forgot how to speak French but learned perfect English (with an unrecognized accent) who insisted that the world would be destroyed by a germ in 1996.  His picture is in her book; he "escapes", vanishing without a trace from history.  This is another N-jump, changing nothing critical to our story.

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2nd Altered Timeline

Now James Cole makes his second trip.  This time he lands in the trench next to Jose.  He does only three things in this time line, starting the C-D segment of a simple N-jump:  he talks to Jose, takes a bullet in his leg, and ends up in Dr. Railly's picture of the World War I madman.

This is not insignificant.  Note that in this C-D segment of the time line, Cole will still make his previous trip, an earlier trip to a later time.  This time, Dr. Railly will recognize him at the county lock-up in 1990; this time she will tell him he looks familiar, and she wants to help him.  This time line is altered in minute but important ways, setting up the next event.

When James Cole next lands in 1996, it is not a new temporal anomaly he is creating.  He has just come from the past, not the future.  When he went from 2030 to about 1916, he created a C-D segment; when he moved forward to 1996, he landed in that same segment, causing no new time segment.  It would be the same as if he had been in suspended animation for that period, or had been sent to another planet on a near light speed ship (slowing time for him so that he would not age).  It is not much different than it would have been had he moved to Boston for eighty years, but that he did not age, and he made no changes in Boston, either.  This time, he kidnaps Dr. Railly immediately after the lecture in which she first encounters the assistant.  He demands that she take him to Philadelphia, displays his unfamiliarity with the world, and comments on the story of Ricky Neuman pretending to fall in the well while actually hiding in the barn--an outcome not yet known.  He uncovers evidence that the 12 Monkeys began in Philadelphia, and connects them to Jeffrey Goines, and to a plot involving Jeffrey's father Dr. Leland Goines.  Attacked by two muggers, he kills one of them (which although in a normal situation sets up a serious anomaly, is almost meaningless in this world--as Cole says, all he sees are dead people; if only one percent of the human population survives, odds are pretty good this guy wasn't going to live much longer anyway).  He also encounters the prophet on the streets of Philadelphia.  (The prophet is a throwaway--even Dr. Railly misses it.  He recognizes Cole as a fellow time-traveler, but only refers to him as "one of us".)  Bob is not there.  A major manhunt for him and his kidnapped and, for a while, believed murdered psychiatrist hostage is overshadowed in the news only by the boy in the well.  He concludes that Jeffrey is planning to steal a virus from his father and release it, and confronts him; on the way, Railly removes the bullet from his leg, and keeps it.  Jeffrey tells Cole that he -Cole- came up with the idea of releasing the virus; Cole (who does not remember that 1990 trip very well, thanks to the medications they gave him at the time) is upset at the possibility that the disaster was his fault, that he gave Goines and the 12 Monkeys the idea of releasing the virus.

I must interrupt for a moment to mention something he does not do:  he does not tell her of his dream; he has not had it in this time line.  In order for him to have his dreams, he must first see himself shot.  The James Cole who left 2030 at the end of the original timeline has never seen a man shot in the airport, nor a woman running to try to save him.  The recurring nightmare does not yet exist.  This will have minor effects on the situation; Cole himself will be slightly more sane, not plagued by this childhood vision of a memory recalled only as the memory of a dream and the dream itself.  This James Cole has no such nightmares, and they do not exist in any of the timelines discussed so far.  Thus he cannot tell Railly about the dream he has not had.

Escaping from Goines' house, he meets Railly in the woods and releases her.  At this point she finally convinces him of what he would love to believe:  that the world he knows as the present in 2030 is unreal, a psychotic episode in his own mind; that 1996 is the present, and she can help him reach a point at which he will live only in 1996, and not in 2030.  He loves 1996, as bad as it is for him.  Sunshine, fresh air, real weather, clean water all are things of the past to him, things to which he would love to return.  She has convinced him (nominally) to surrender, and while he is enjoying the reverie of being in this world, she turns her back on him to attract the police and searchers, and he vanishes back to the future.

This time we are permitted to watch parts of the N-jump unfold.  The life of Kathryn Railly from this moment to the moment Cole returns now has all that has gone before as its history; and the events which follow impact upon her understanding of the universe in a significant way.  She is no longer the same Dr. Kathryn Railly.

The first of those events is the discovery of the boy in the barn--not in the well.  Cole knew that a day before the world did, and he told her.  Had it been just that Cole said the boy was not in the well, that it was a hoax, the impact would have been less; but he said the boy was hiding in a barn.  Of course, her superior at the county mental hospital does not believe her; he believes that the stress of the situation is causing her to misremember details of the ordeal, to create facts consistent with the reality Cole was trying to sell her.  But this detail has started her new thought process.

The second event is the ballistic report on the bullet.  It was an antique, fired prior to 1920.  (I am skeptical of this report.  The report should have stated that it was fired from an antique gun of a type in use prior to 1920 but not since.  The lab will not identify the bullet as old, because it is in fact new--it was just fired a few days before.  It may have been crafted using antique methods and materials and fired from an antique gun, but it would be identified as a superb replica of such a bullet, fired from a gun which either was or duplicated perfectly the effects of a World War I rifle.  However, even as this, it is a compelling piece of information.)  This discovery of the apparent origin of the bullet jogs her memory, and she races to her files, creating the third event:  she finds the picture of James Cole in the foxhole in World War I, and understands why she recognized him.  She now has pieces of a different puzzle than the one she has been trying to construct.  It may be that James Cole is sane, stressed by travel through time, out of place in this world, but absolutely correct when he says that a virus will destroy the world this year, and that he has to find out how it begins so that the future may be rebuilt from that data.

Armed with this new view of the world, she calls Dr. Leland Goines, and inquires about his security precautions.  Although most people would have difficulty getting hold of such a man, she has been Jeffrey's psychiatrist in the past, and will have told the switchboard that it had to do with her concerns about the younger Goines.  Although Dr. Goines gives her his assurances, a few undirected words about the Cassandra complex (predicting the future and not being believed) on which she has lectured from Goines' assistant convinces him to reconsider security, and take himself out of the loop so that Jeffrey can't get access to the virus.

This is the critical change in the time stream:  this is what causes the assistant to have access to the virus.  This timeline plays itself out peacefully:  Dr. Railly hunts for information about the 12 Monkeys, but on or about December 13 they release the animals.  She does paint words about the 12 Monkeys on the store front window where they were hidden.  She never sees Cole again; but on about the same date, the assistant takes the virus samples to Philadelphia airport, releases some there, and boards a plane with tickets to travel around the world within days.  The date and place of the release of the virus is now fixed to the altered history.  Dr. Railly probably dies in the plague which follows, and time continues to a future in which they now have the information obtained by Cole's last trip, connecting the 12 Monkeys through Jeffrey Goines to virologist Dr. Leland Goines.  They believe they've confirmed their theories, and need to go back for the final sample collection.

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3rd Altered Timeline

We have also created a new timeline.  Since the words painted on the storefront glass in this timeline were seen by Cole before his second trip--the one in which he returned to 1916--a sawtooth snap occurs.  That is, there was an original timeline in which Cole did not come back for his second visit, and none of this happened.  The segment is measured from 1916, the point A to which Cole will return, to 2030, the point B at which he leaves.  Returning to point A, it becomes point C, different by virtue of the fact that he is now there, and advances to point D, which use to be point B.  But when he leaves B for C, the sign has not been created; it is not in existence until after Kathryn sees the picture of him from point C.  Thus the events of this time line continue to unfold to 2030, much as described otherwise, but the Cole who leaves 2030 has seen the words which Kathryn Railly draws on the glass in 1996, and thus arrives in 1916 as point E, different because his knowledge is different.  His own investigations have incidentally created information which supports those investigations.

In a twist if irony, just as Dr. Railly comes to believe that James if from the future, he has been convinced that the future does not exist, that he is from 1996 and suffering from mental divergence, imagining this horrible future reality as a way of escaping from the pressures of the past reality.  He tells them as much.  Bob is there, and undoubtedly tells that him if he wants to get what he wants--to live in the beautiful world of the past--he has to outsmart the scientists.  Bob still has his teeth, and Cole has not met him in the past.  Thus, convinced that these people are not real, he convinces them that he's the best person to return to 1996 to finish the investigation and acquire the virus from the 12 Monkeys.

Catching up with Kathryn Railly moments after she spraypaints the building, he tells her that he's convinced that he's sick; but she is no longer convinced.  Unable to resolve the issue, she decides to call the voice mail number he gives her.  Getting a carpet cleaning service, she leaves a message regarding the 12 Monkeys.  It means nothing to him.  However, he is convinced that he is mentally divergent, and is committed to the county hospital where she attempts to help him for a couple of weeks, until everyone starts dying of the virus.

In this timeline he will die in the past.  You see, his departure from 2030 to reach 1996 this last time has created a sawtooth snap; therefore, there is no future after this departure which follows from the history he is creating.  Although he still has the recall device in his tooth, there is no one who knows he is there who can recall him.  This history stops in 2030, and is replaced by a new one.  However, the new history is still not the history shown in the movie, and at the end of the next timeline a decision will be made not to recall him to the future, but to attempt to change his actions in the past.  This convoluted decision is not readily apparent, but is the only explanation for the multiple appearances of Bob and Jose within the timeline.  Thus he is not called back to the future from the final timeline, and so he is not called back to the future from this one.

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4th Altered Timeline

We have a sawtooth snap--and a big one--because Kathryn made that phone call.  She just created the message which was reconstructed from the voice mail decades later, in which she tells them to beware of the 12 Monkeys.  Cole, in the timeline we see, heard that message before he made his second time trip.  Therefore--just as it was with the painting on the glass--time must revert to 1916 and travel through all of that history again, this time with a Cole who has heard the recording.  All of what we have so far unraveled plays the same way, until we reach the moment when she tells him what she said--and in this timeline, he already knows.  This spooks them.  They are now running from the police, and get in a fight with a pimp who thinks she's a prostitute.  They disguise themselves--but her new look means nothing to him this time around.  They decide to escape, to flee to parts unknown, and wait to see whether the world comes to an end or not.  On the way to the airport, they discover the released animals.  Cole calls the carpet cleaning voice mail number, tells them to forget the 12 Monkeys and to leave him alone, since he did what they asked and they gave him his pardon; he and Kathryn leave the area, headed for the Florida Keys, almost at the same time that the assistant leaves on his world-wide trip to destroy the world.  Kathryn recognizes the assistant, and realizes what's happening.

I've had to give extensive thought to what happened next.  Cole was sent to gather information, and he has a few minutes.  He must go back to the phone and make another call, telling the scientists that the assistant is the villain.  They decide not to pull him out of that time line, but to try to change it; after all, he's the only person they have who knows who this assistant is, who can stop him and get access to the virus.  And, having tampered with time without a serious temporal disaster, they're getting cocky; so they decide that rather than pull him out they will try to change his course.  They rig a way for Bob to talk to him while he's in the bathroom; but it has no effect.  This creates another N-jump--a minor one, with no mention of teeth, no mention of the assistant, no change in Cole's actions.  Then Bob, taking his own advice, convinces them that if they sent him back to a few days before the event, he could find Cole and set him straight.

I'm getting ahead of myself here.  Since they decided not to pull Cole back to the future, he will have lived through that segment of the timeline until he died or they changed their mind; but they cannot change their mind, because they have halted that time segment by changing it with Bob's voice.  It is also reasonable to suggest that Cole, who as a child was present in the Philadelphia airport and only yards away from the virus the moment it was released, has an immunity to the virus in its original form, and might again last for many years.  What he would do is not important, as long as he does not prevent the future from taking the shape he knew.  With his knowledge, he will likely stay clear of the authorities until he dies.  In the replacement segment, created by the message from Bob (which this time does not mention the teeth) Cole again lives in 1996 and beyond until he dies, the decision to try to change his actions having been made.

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5th Altered Timeline

Bob double-crosses the scientists.  He returns to 1996 and pulls out his own teeth, disappearing into the better world of the gutters of our cities.  He encounters Cole, and mentions the tracker in the teeth to him; this was on Cole's second trip, now split into the N-jump created by Bob's trip.  It changes the nature of all that follows in minor ways--restoring the mention of the teeth to the later conversations, such as the one in the hospital in the future.  Although it might seem that Cole gave Bob the idea of pulling the teeth because Bob gave it to Cole, it is a reasonable reconstruction to infer that Bob did not know there was a tracker in the teeth, and discovered it accidentally later, in time to tell Cole sooner.  Then, when Cole returns for his third trip (being replayed now with the new knowledge base), and the segment about Railly's phone call causes its replay within a replay of history, Cole pulls the tooth.  Bob's conversation in the bathroom is altered to include the tooth, but he will still pull the same stunt, so time will continue  Cole will again make the second call, and disappear from the airport with the disguised Kathryn.  In a couple weeks the plague begins, and people start dying.  Since 99% of the population dies, Kathryn Railly probably is among them, but Cole continues to live for some time thereafter, missing her, but enjoying the last beauties of a dying world.  But the scientists have not yet given up.

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6th Altered Timeline

Jose is sent back.  I hypothesize that the scientists in the future have already unraveled the second call, and know who the culprit is; but Jose does not realize that Cole does not know.  He hands Cole a gun, expecting that Cole will know what to do with it.  Cole has no idea at this point what is happening, but Kathryn runs up and tells him.  We now see the events as they unfold at the end of the film.  Cole gets shot, and the young Cole sees himself get shot.  He never made that last call; and that could create a major anomaly, since Jose came back because of information received from Cole which Cole never sent.  However, it is not completely fatal, because what matters is not that the events repeat themselves the same way, but that the essential facts of those events remain the same.  Kathryn knows that Goines' assistant is carrying the virus, even though she doesn't know his name, and knows the number of the voice mail.  She might call today, or next week, or next year, and leave a message giving that information to the scientists in the future, so that they would be able to do what Cole was to do.  She could do this so that his death would not have been in vain, or because she sees the horrors he predicted and wishes to do something to help the future, or because in her own madness she stumbles upon a divergent reality herself, created from fragments of his.  The message concerning the assistant could come from her.  Alternately, Jose could pick up the phone and place a call, telling those in the future that he gave the gun to Cole, who is on his way to stop Goines' assistant before the virus spreads.  Either way, the essential information reaches the scientists, and the history can continue.  But if neither of those things happens, then Jose cannot bring the gun back, and Cole won't be shot, and the call will be made, and Jose will bring the gun--an infinity loop, the end of the future.

But not yet.

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Final Altered Timeline

Young James Cole has now seen himself get shot.  This last time line created by the return of Jose has set up a new snap.  Now the James Cole who is sent back on the first temporal trip has seen a man shot, has seen a woman rush to help him, and has looked into the concerned and knowing eyes of that woman.  Now he grows up with those nightmares, and tells them to that woman when he recognizes her eyes, and watches the clues unfold around him, and feels the discomfort of entering the airport.  All of the events we have seen repeat themselves this time with the James Cole who saw himself get shot.  And then they will repeat themselves one more time--because the James Cole who is shot at the end of the repeat has had those dreams, and told them to the Kathryn Railly who stares for a moment into the eyes of the young James Cole, a different dead James Cole, a different Kathryn Railly, a different change in history.

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It took a long time to unravel this one, and the ending is perhaps a bit dissatisfying.  After all, time could be forever tied up in an infinity loop, repeating the death or happiness of one man (much like a time travel world of which I heard under development for the Multiverser game system); or it could move forward into a better world, with the scientists finding the information they need to combat the infection which has plagued mankind.  It all hinges on whether someone made a phone call--and we will never know.

A reader named Chris Pollard has compiled at page entitled "12 Monkeys Things", among which he has graciously included this site---along with other interpretive links, images and sound clips from the movie, and anything else he's been able to locate on the subject (plus a few bits from other Terry Gilliam films).  As much as I'd hate to see you leave, if you're more interested in 12 Monkeys than in time travel problems in general, you might check out his site.

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Write to me about 12 Monkeys, or questions that you have on this page.  You might also wish to look at the Addendum to 12 Monkeys page and some of the correspondence--particularly if you are about to add your voice to the chorus of those who believe that I misinterpreted the woman on the plane.  I have considered this, and my reasons for not accepting it are on those pages.

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