In 12 Monkeys, James Cole has some tattoos, one on the back of his neck looks like a bar-code and another on the side of his neck near to the ear looks like some digits.

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Is there any significance to those tattoos? They are shown various times in the film.

  • 1
    I think the bar code is just part of his prisoner identity (and maybe the digits also?).
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Sep 20, 2013 at 10:51
  • @ChristianRau also though the same but there is no mention of it in the film. May be someone can elaborate it.
    – Ankit Sharma
    Commented Sep 20, 2013 at 10:53
  • Need screenshot. :/
    – Mistu4u
    Commented Sep 20, 2013 at 16:31
  • @Mistu4u added, but its not too clear.
    – Ankit Sharma
    Commented Sep 21, 2013 at 5:27
  • 1
    They scanned his neck tattoo when he met with the scientists before going up to the surface.
    – Main
    Commented Jan 29, 2017 at 18:44

1 Answer 1


Introduction to Twelve Monkeys from the Programme Notes:

And, his stark look was further enhanced by his makeup artist, Cristina Bartolucci, who, everyday, etched a trio of tattoos onto Willis' scalp and neck - one that indicated his prisoner number, and a pair of bar-codes, the kind imprinted on packaged goods, on each side of his neck.

This is also repeated on Wikipedia:

The actor had a trio of tattoos drawn onto his scalp and neck each day when filming: one that indicated his prisoner number, and a pair of barcodes on each side of his neck.

I don't think that there's any particular significance to the tattoos other than to emphasise the dystopian undercurrent in the story and remind us every now and then that Cole is actually a prisoner (from the future).


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