At the end of 12 Monkeys, the doctor spreading the virus gets on a plane and sits next to a woman we know (or can assume) is from the future. She tells the doctor that she's "in insurance." What does she mean by this?

Is she there to make sure he's stopped once and for all?

  • 2
    I understood it as "insuring the timeline continuum..." folded in.
    – Nils Munch
    Commented Jan 14, 2012 at 11:04
  • Isn't she a younger version of her 2035 self? She is not really from the future.
    – John
    Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 14:39
  • She seeks to ensure she remains in power.
    – 2540625
    Commented Mar 19, 2020 at 20:02
  • She seeks to ensure that there is no inconsistency in the timeline, so that they can work on a cure in the same timeline in the future. They do not work for a cure in 1995, they work for a cure in 2035, because one cannot modify the past.
    – Wok
    Commented Jul 15, 2021 at 12:12
  • One cannot modify the past without changing the timeline, I meant.
    – Wok
    Commented Jul 15, 2021 at 12:43

5 Answers 5


She is "insurance" that the virus will successfully be spread around the world.

The key is that the scientists were never interested in stopping the virus in 1995. As Cole says early on, "I just have to locate the virus in its original form before it mutates. So scientists can come back and study it and find a cure. So that those of us who survived can go back to the surface of the earth."

But later Cole decides to stay in 1995, and by the airport scene, he has given the future scientists the slip by cutting out his teeth. Except Cole leaves a message from the airport, leading the future scientists back to him -- with a two-part plan:

  1. Cole's message did not identify the virus spreader, so Jose's task at airport is to give Cole the gun and then watch who Cole goes after. When Catherine runs up and says she's figured out it is the redhead assistant to Dr Goynes who spreads the virus, Jose fades out of the scene, having got what he needed. (for confirmation see scene as written in production draft of script)

  2. From there, the scientists need to make sure Cole does not actually prevent the virus from being spread because that would dramatically disrupt the timeline. To prevent the disruption, the lady scientist is sent as back-up who -- if Cole somehow manages to stop redhead-ponytail guy -- can grab the briefcase, take the flights, and make sure the virus still gets spread around the world (which seems to end up being unnecessary because redhead-ponytail gets on plane OK)

Luckily for the scientists, airport security shoots Cole when Cole tries to shoot the redhead guy. (The scientists may have provided Cole a non-working gun to encourage this outcome.)

More evidence:

  • the lady scientist says insurance remark on the plane seated next to redhead-ponytail guy, suggesting she was prepared to go to the same destinations, which the scientists had Cole list earlier in the movie
  • the scientists may have been worried because Pitt's father changing security procedures, showing Cole could indeed disrupt timeline.
  • at one point, a scientist in the future scornfully calls the pre-virus world "that dying world" suggesting no interest in saving it.
  • the overall story of the movie is Cole wants to live in the past despite being ordered not to (Cole: "This part isn't about the virus, is it? It's about obeying, about doing what you're told.")
  • 3
    Wow, now that is a bunch of interresting thoughts! +10
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Feb 5, 2012 at 13:43
  • 1
    What dreams suggest that Brad Pitt initialy spread the virus? Do you mean the dreams of the airport gundown, I don't remember seeing Brad Pitt in there. If he was, that would indeed be a major enlightenment about the movie for me, as it would destroy the whole "can't change destiny"-motive I got out of it and the whole "unchangable timeline"-feature that makes it so distinct.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 19:19
  • 2
    @Christian: In one of Cole's airport dreams (I'm pretty sure it is an early one) he clearly sees Brad Pitt in the role that is later carried out by the redhead guy. Then Cole's warning causes Brad Pitt's dad to change the codes, but "Too late" says Brad Pitt -- and I think he says this because he saw the code-change coming and changed his plan such that the redhead guy spread the virus.
    – Shiz Z.
    Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 20:47
  • 2
    (comment continued) This flashback happened after Cole had met the Brad Pitt character and I interpreted it as Cole was confusing his memory with the addition of Brad Pitt because he had never seen the face to the man before. Brad Pitt didn't have red hair so it couldn't have been an altered timeline. I never heard the insurance lady say anything about not liking the past, but I could have missed it. Commented Feb 13, 2012 at 17:02
  • 2
    No, she is insuring that they get a sample of it to take back to the future, like they have been trying to do the whole movie. Commented Aug 27, 2019 at 2:37

Cole's assignment was not to stop the virus, but to locate the source. The insurance person I believe was sent to get a sample. The virus will spread, because it already has. The goal to the time travelers was to figure out (in the future) how to combat the virus.

Edit: Here is my take on how time travel works (IMHO); Anything that is known in the future is what happened in the past. Therefore you can't change the past except in ways that don't make the future inconsistent with the past. Cole knew about the man (himself) being shot at the airport and I think that the controller that sent Cole into the past also knew and most likely guessed that he was Cole. They also sent Jose with the gun to help Cole to fulfill his destiny. What the controllers want is a way to cure the virus in their time and they need a sample to be able to do that. The insurance lady is there to get the sample. This lady has to be from the future and not her younger self or she would have contracted the virus and died, therefore she would not be in the future. Another indicator that she was from the future is that Cole was 8 years old at the time, Jose when he gave the Cole the gun said something that 30 years had passed (although I think that more then 30 years had passed as Cole looks to be older than 38). The age of the insurance lady didn't appear to be 30+ years younger than the future version.

  • Why did Jose give him a gun though?
    – Casebash
    Commented Feb 5, 2012 at 2:50
  • Bruce Willis himself is 40 years old in the movie, but I don't know how old he's supposed to look. Commented Feb 14, 2012 at 7:51
  • Dr.Jones looks younger, if not 30 years younger. That could just be bad makeup.
    – John
    Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 15:02
  • @Casebash that's a good question. Perhaps to ensure Bruce Willis' death at the hands of airport agents. Commented Aug 27, 2019 at 2:41
  • In this scenario, she said "insurance" but she could have said anything. If she is there to get a sample, then she is not insuring anything, because it was nobody's mission beforehand.
    – Wok
    Commented Jul 15, 2021 at 12:19

The caricature of insurance people is that they are like leeches -- that they make their living off of people's fear. Mortality rates and actuarials are not appealing topics. Their paradox is that without tragedy, insurance wouldn't be a viable business.

This conception has existed for years -- well before the bad behavior and negative publicity insurance companies have earned over the past decade. Denying coverage or revoking claims for profit.

Terry Gilliam does what he has always done, and does best! The line "I'm in insurance" is a punchline, absurdism pure and simple. Maximum irony: That insurance woman scores on ultimate tragedy. She is not only immune to the virus, but she prospers in such a way as to become a post-apocalyptic ruler. Ha!

[see Fight Club for a big send-up of greedy insurers]

  • 1
    Brilliant! Like they're sending Cole back like an Adjuster or Claims Agent... Commented Apr 9, 2012 at 16:14
  • The problem with this theory is that insurance companies make money (revenue) off of insurance enrollments/payments and lose money (expenditures) when claims are made. Claims are made when various types of disasters strike. When huge disasters strike, the insurance company has to pay out tons of money, to the point of perhaps going bankrupt. So the worldwide virus would bankrupt any relevant insurance company. Commented May 9, 2020 at 17:15
  • No, she's from the future. As evidenced by the script of the movie: bshistorian.wordpress.com/2020/04/10/…
    – BCdotWEB
    Commented Jun 30, 2021 at 6:28

I actually always saw this as coincidence with her being the "original past version" of this woman, who's unaware of her future.

Whereas your interpretation makes much more sense I have a major problem with it: causality! They cannot stop the outspread of the virus because this would prevent Bruce Willis' and her future actions and therefore the whole movie and their stopping of the virus. And he already let it free in the airport when he opened the glass, didn't he?

Well most movies about time travel don't care about such causality problems, but especially Twelve Monkies is one of the few films (or the only one? maybe Source Code in its own theoretical physical interpretation) I know that handle causality in a plausible way. So I'm pretty sure in the context/story/universe of the movie they cannot prevent the outspread of the virus because all their actions are already prescribed, like Bruce Willis' death in the airport has always been prescribed.

But well your interpretation still makes sense, so I think they could still try to stop him (the characters are still unaware of the causality problems) without success or even heal it in the future, where the story is still open.

So yes, she's likely to be the insurance to stop him. But again, she will not be able to achieve it.

EDIT: In my coincidence-interpretation the "insurance" remarks could also be just a symbol for her, one of the scientists/leaders, being an ordinary citizen in the past, in this case an insurance agent. Similar to the symbol of the Holnist leader being a former copier salesman in The Postman.

  • The coincidence angle is a good one too. It could just pure irony that she's in insurance and ends up basically continuing that "occupation" in the future - trying ENsure that the virus doesn't get spread in the past. Commented Jan 12, 2012 at 17:06
  • And while he did open the glass in the airport, he obviously needs to go to several countries for it to be completely effective. If he only hit the US, then other countries would still be around to combat the virus. If everybody is hit essentially at once... a lot less likely. Commented Jan 12, 2012 at 17:07
  • @BrianKelly He drops the glass in an AIRPORT. This means the virus is spread by people all over the world. The same happens in another popular movie that was launched in 2011. I won't say the name in order to not make spoilers(although it was kind of predictable).
    – Dragos
    Commented Jan 13, 2012 at 9:51
  • @Dragos Er, yea, okay... but then why the need to go to some many different countries? I would argue that the less places he gets to, the less harmful the virus will be. Commented Jan 13, 2012 at 13:13
  • @Christian Rau, I have edit my answer to explain my reasoning why the insurance lady can't be her younger self. Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 18:44

Yes, just in-case they couldn't stop him in the airport, she is the backup...insurance. At least that's how I interpreted it.

  • 1
    That's what I would think.
    – Nobby
    Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 23:34

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