Friday, October 5, 2012

Obsessive Cinematic Disorder: Bruce Willis Likes to Time Travel

*spoilers for 12 Monkeys, The Kid, and Looper abound!*

When you think of Bruce Willis, what comes to mind? Action? Violence? Bald swagger? How about time travel?

Bruce Willis looooooooves to time travel. In a 30+ year career, Willis has starred in three time travel films. I’d wager to guess that he’s time traveled more than any other major film star. All that’s left is for some random person to find Bruno in some old-timey photo.

It could happen.
Let’s take a look, shall we?

12 Monkeys

12 Monkeys is a time travel movie in which Bruce Willis plays Cole, a prisoner from a virus-ravaged future. He’s sent back in time by a group of scientists to gather information on a disease that killed 5 billion people in 1996.


Other than one other character (possibly two), Willis’ Cole is the only time traveler in the film. Let’s take a look at his escapades.

1. Present (2035) to April 1990

Cole is accidentally sent to 1990 Baltimore, six years before the virus hits. He’s arrested and institutionalized. He meets a psychiatrist named Dr. Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) and a fellow patient named Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt).

2. 1990 to Present

Cole is pulled from the institution back to the present.

3. Present to October 1917

Cole is accidentally and briefly sent to WWI where he encounters Jose, a fellow time-traveling prisoner from the present. Cole is shot in the leg during the conflict.

Sending Cole back.
4. October 1917 to November 1996, Baltimore

Cole makes it to 1996 Baltimore and abducts Dr. Railly. Clues about the virus lead him to suspect that Jeffrey Goines is responsible for the outbreak. Cole finds him at a party at the home of his father, virologist Dr. Goines. After speaking with Jeffrey, Cole is convinced that he accidentally planted the idea for unleashing a killer virus into Jeffrey’s head back in 1990. Cole escapes the party and flees with Dr. Railly to the woods outside the Goines house.

5. November 1996 to Present

Cole is pulled from 1996 back to the present. Thinking they’ve solved the mystery of the virus by connecting it to Goines, the scientists issue him a pardon. However, Cole tricks them into sending him back one last time.

6. Present to December 1996

Cole travels back to December 1996, just before the virus strikes. He and Dr. Railly make it to the airport and attempt to stop Dr. Goines’ assistant, who is actually the one responsible for purposely unleashing the virus. Cole attempts to kill him but is shot. His young self witnesses his own death and this scene goes on to replay in his dreams throughout his life.

12 Monkeys is a cerebral, haunting film. The time travel is used effectively to advance the story and it never becomes overly muddled. The film seems to say that the future is set in stone. Nothing that Cole does in the past changes anything. In fact, his actions seem fitted into the past before he even does them. The fact that Cole dreams of his death (having seen it as a boy) throughout his life is an example of this.

The Kid

The Kid follows a work-obsessed image consultant named Russ (Willis) who one day finds that his eight year old self from 1968 - known as Rusty (Spencer Breslin) - has somehow ended up in 2000, days before his 40th birthday. Russ decides that Rusty has been transported to the present so that he can help him.

The 70 year old version of Russ (Old Russ) also time travels throughout this movie in a red plane/truck. In fact, Old Russ is responsible for all of the time travel shenanigans. I’ll be going through this movie’s time travel in the order it happens in the film, as opposed to the order it happens in Russ/Rusty’s life. I think?

1. Old Russ travels from 2030 to 1968

The Russ from 2030 - who has somehow either discovered or invented time travel - travels from 2030 to 1968 in order to retrieve his eight year old self.

2./3. Old Russ and Rusty Travel from 1968 to 2000

Old Russ takes Rusty to the year 2000 and leaves him at Russ’ house. Rusty’s trip marks the first time Russ/Rusty travels through time.

4./5./6. Old Russ, Russ and Rusty Travel from 2000 to 1968

Old Russ transports Russ and Rusty from 2000 to the year 1968. Rusty stands up to some bullies but his mom - who we learn is dying of a terminal disease - has to pick him up from school because of the fight. Rusty/Russ’ father is furious at his son. He traumatizes him by telling him that his mother is dying and that he should grow up.

7. Old Russ Travels from 1968 to 2030

Meanwhile, Old Russ travels back to 2030 to gather his family.

8. Old Russ and Family Travel from 2030 to 1968

Old Russ and his family travel to 1968 to meet Russ and Rusty at a restaurant called the Skyway Diner.

9. Old Russ and Family Travel from 1968 to ?

Old Russ and his family travel to parts and times unknown after talking with his eight and 40 year old selves.

10. Russ Travels back to 2000

Old Russ transports Russ back to the year 2000, leaving Rusty in 1968 and both of them confident in their futures.

The time travel in The Kid is kind of confusing. It’s not clear if Old Russ is changing the past or if his time traveling was always a part of history. Russ obviously doesn’t remember encountering his 40 year old self when he was eight but, then again, he seems to imply that his memory of the time is fuzzy. And Old Russ remembers seeing Rusty when he was 40 *eye starts to twitch from mental stress*

The Skyway Diner also seems to randomly travel through space and time throughout the film and I’m not even gonna get into that.


Looper revolves around Joe, a criminal in the year 2044 who assassinates targets sent back in time by the mob of 2074. Joe’s world is turned upside when his future self is sent back for termination.

Although there is quite a bit of time travel in Looper, Bruce Willis only travels through time once.

1A. 2074 to 2044

Old Joe is sent back to 2044. Young Joe kills him.

1B. 2074 to 2044

Old Joe, after incapacitating/murdering his captors in 2074, travels back to 2044 to change his future. This is technically the same trip as 1A, it just happens differently. Therefore, Joe only travels through time once.

Looper’s time travel is the complete opposite to the kind found in 12 Monkeys. Whereas Cole couldn’t change the past, Old Joe’s trip has countless ramifications to history.

It’s interesting comparing 12 Monkeys, The Kid, and Looper because the tone varies between the three. Whereas 12 Monkeys and Looper represent the dark side of time travel, The Kid portrays it as mostly carefree and fun. In fact, you could consider The Kid and Looper to be polar opposites of one another, with the former portraying Bruce’s character and his younger self as friends and the latter portraying the two versions of Bruce as enemies. There’s even scenes in both films where the two versions of the characters share a meal at a diner. Only one ends in violence, however.

All told, Bruce Willis travels through time about 17 times in his films - that we know of. I need to go lie down now.


  1. I'll give this article a read once I've seen Looper. Afraid of spoilers!

    1. Chris - Let me know when you see it! Curious about what you'll think.

  2. Did not know that was what The Kid was about. Never really had an urge to see it. 12 Monkeys and Looper were great but I'm more excoted about the Die Hard 5 teaser!!!

    1. Pete - The Kid is definitely a family film - it's not really on par with 12 Monkeys and Looper in a lot of ways but it's a decent flick.

      I thought the Die Hard 5 teaser was alright. I think you said you didn't care for Die Hard 4? What's your favorite DH?

      Thanks for reading!

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  6. The time travel is used effectively to advance the story and it never becomes overly muddled. The film seems to say that the future is set in stone. Nothing that Cole does in the past changes anything. Chania rent a car