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Remember they did some weird song, and they put all these different sized TVs in front of Bruce Willis? And remember the things they were saying, etc?

I didn't see any explanation in the story, and these scientists had to be pretty smart. So why did they act like they were on drugs or something like that?

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    It's the future. Someone from the Middle Ages would probably think we're pretty weird.
    – Daft
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 9:48
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    Out of universe answer. Terry Gilliam ( Monty Python animations ) Directed it.
    – Jaydee
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 9:52
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    "Why are they so weird?" To answer that with a question, why not? It's an effective plot device. Dystopian futures often feature groups of people who seem intelligent but act very different from ourselves (seeming insane). It's a common device. Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 12:45
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    @scott.korin - The presence of the bullet and the photo prove that he wasn't hallucinating.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 15:31
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    @Guillelon That scientist at the end of the film was another time traveler, she was procuring the sample of the original virus. Her being a business woman was part of her cover.
    – user1027
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 16:44

2 Answers 2

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The future world in "12 Monkeys" isn't just a dystopia, it's a cacotopia, the worst possible world. The government (such as there is) seems to function largely through the total repression of citizen's rights.

We live underground! The world belongs to the fucking dogs and cats. We're like moles or worms.

Although the scientists (identified in the script as the Astrophysicist, Engineer, Botanist, Microbiologist, Zoologist and Geologist) seem to represent something of a ruling council, the reality is that they too are likely to be suffering the long term effects of malnourishment, vitamin deficiency, deprivation, social phobia, post-traumatic stress and paranoia:

The original script offers us a bit more of an insight into their portrayal:

COLE'S POV: Walls hidden by old headlines, articles, maps, charts...a blackboard covered with elaborate, sophisticated formulae...surfaces heaped with cracked monitors, gerry-rigged computers held together with string, lasers lost in tangles of cable, ancient tube amplifiers, a dilapidated cardboard reconstruction of a city, stacks of moldering books and tattered computer printouts...and, seated at a long conference table, staring at COLE, six SCIENTISTS: an ASTROPHYSICIST, ENGINEER, BOTANIST, MICROBIOLOGIST, ZOOLOGIST, and a GEOLOGIST. They represent a "modern" science where brilliant new ideas interface with crude, outdated, patched-together technologies.

And also explains why they were singing to Cole, they're celebrating his achievement:

Crowded around COLE'S bed, the SCIENTISTS are concluding a ragged, out of tune, rendition of "BLUEBERRY HILL."

SCIENTISTS : ---found my thrills on Blueberry Hill...

Seeing he's awake, SCIENTISTS break off the song and applaud.

SCIENTISTS : Well done, James! Well done! Nice going! Congratulations! Good for you!

BOTANIST : During your "interview," while you were..."under the influence," you told us you liked music!

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  • I agree with most of this answer, but what evidence is there that the society "seems to function largely through the total repression of citizen's rights"? Remember that Cole was a prison inmate--they obviously don't have much respect for prisoners' rights since Cole wasn't really given a choice about "volunteering" for a dangerous time travel experiment, but I don't think there's much evidence about how repressive the society was for non-prisoners (probably a society that would do that to prisoners would be somewhat repressive, but there are degrees--you're freer in China than N. Korea!)
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 19:21
  • @Hypnosifl - I've seen Gilliam describe the underworld as a "gulag".
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 19:25
  • Not to migrate this to English SE but I could not find a definition for cacotopia that didn't say it was just a straight synonym of dystopia.
    – Paul
    Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 4:20
  • @Paul - Claeys and Sargeant define a cacotopia as not merely an unpleasant society but one where morals and ethics are absent; books.google.co.uk/…. Beaumont and Smith distinguish a dystopia as a society with a morally absent government, as opposed to a cacotopia; a society in which the average citizen has no moral compass
    – Valorum
    Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 21:40
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In many stories of this sort - the classic ones, perhaps, being by Robert W. Chambers, esp. 'The Repairer Of Reputations', which is well worth reading - the main plot device could be summed up in a question: Where does the real world we all know end, and the looney world of a schizophrenic begin?

In Twelve Monkeys (the movie), I think the unique plot device is an inversion of this one. The question is, where does the reality begin? obviously there's more than one screw loose - or a dozen - in the world the movie portrays. The trailer drops a broad hint: "Is this the past .... or the present .... or the future ?"

So - though those people-in-labcoats singing is a very memorable scene indeed - are they really singing? is the whole scene real at all? The answer depends upon where you put your belief.

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    No. I'm not related to the lantern-jawed Nazi of that name. Hess is as common a name as 'Smith'. If you were Smith, would you be related to George Joseph, John, or Lemuel of the surname Smith?
    – R. Hess
    Commented Aug 2, 2015 at 18:45

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