Is Cole in 12 Monkeys actually sent to the past to cause the global pandemic?

After a few plot twists, 12 Monkeys ends with Peters starting a world tour to spread the deadly virus, which he could only obtain because he was instructed to look after the security of the virus storage at Goines' lab, when Cole phoned Goines' father to warn him about the threat.

I wonder if the scientists in the future knew this and sent Cole to cause the events, that would lead to Peters getting access to the virus storage enabling him to cause the global pandemic.

A possible motive could be power. The scientists and leaders in the dystopic future would probably not have power, when there was not pandemic.

  • This interesting theory has been brought up in answers here before, albeit not yet as a direct question itself, I think.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Jun 15, 2020 at 10:55
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    @SZCZERZOKŁY .... I don't believe they are attempting to change the past, i.e. stopping the infection before it is released. I believe Cole is sent back to do research to aid them in their present time. The idea that they NEED to send someone back to create their current history is a new idea to me - but not one that seems inconsistent.
    – iandotkelly
    Jun 15, 2020 at 14:59
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    There's a theory I've seen that when Jones says "I'm in insurance" on the plane, she's implying that she came back in time to make sure the virus was released successfully. Make of that what you will. Jun 15, 2020 at 15:48
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    Every time I watch this film, I get a different theory. So far I've not convinced myself that any of them are correct. I do think that was Gilliam's intention, but I doubt he's ever going to give out "the answer".
    – Tetsujin
    Jun 15, 2020 at 17:59

1 Answer 1


No. The objectives of the scientists and Cole are different. The main objective of the scientists to obtain a sample of the original virus from the past and then bring that into the future, so that the scientists could use it to find a cure.

On the other hand, Cole is under the impression that he has been sent to prevent the pandemic, but the scientists from the future are just using him for their ulterior motive.
If you recall the ending scene, you'd see a guy from 12 Monkeys with the virus get into a plane and seated next to him is a woman who claims to be from insurance. She's actually working for the scientists and she's there to ensure the virus gets spread as it has happened in the original timeline. So in that case, she's the one who's sent to cause the pandemic.

Stopping the pandemic has been never the intention of the scientists from the future. The pandemic has already happened in the timeline where Cole comes from the future.

This answer mentions that the scientists cannot simply alter the past now.
My assumption is that the scientists believe that stopping the virus from its original spread might drastically alter the timeline. Therefore the scientists want to achieve their goal while changing as little as possible from the past.

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    You're summarizing the main plot twist, but my question is about the option that the scientist do not (only) want to obtain a sample of the virus, but also cause the pandemic timeline by allowing Peters access to the virus.
    – allo
    Jul 1, 2021 at 7:33
  • @allo Yes, they want pandemic to happen. That way everything would go almost the same way and their future would still have the virus, but they'd also be able to find a cure and counter the virus now that they have a sample of original virus.
    – Sandun
    Jul 7, 2021 at 6:23
  • Refer this answer : movies.stackexchange.com/a/98127/65183
    – Sandun
    Jul 7, 2021 at 6:24
  • So are the scientists lying when they say the past cannot be changed? If that is so, why make extra effort to ensure the pandemic? Aug 15, 2021 at 5:28
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    In the novel it's "Beside him, a courtly silver-haired gentleman wearing a business suit and one gold earring offered his hand congenially. Once, James Cole would have recognized him as the astrophysicist from the future. But that James Cole was dead. "Jones is my name," he said. There was a glint of very white teeth as he smiled. "I'm in insurance." - The shaking of the hand is important because they've now got a sample of the virus from the person that caused it
    – Valorum
    Aug 19, 2023 at 23:40

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