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12 Monkeys: Science on Screen

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In a future world devastated by disease, convicted criminal James Cole (Bruce Willis) is given the chance to erase his record by traveling back to the past to investigate the origins of a virus that wiped out nearly all of the earth’s population decades earlier.

But when Cole is mistakenly sent to the wrong year, he is arrested and hospitalized in a mental institution, where he meets a psychiatrist (Madeline Stowe) who is initially convinced he’s insane and a patient (Brad Pitt) with links to a radical group that may have unleashed the deadly virus. Part psychological thriller, part apocalyptic drama, Terry Gilliam’s riveting drama combines intricate storytelling, visual ingenuity, and stellar performances.

Virus outbreaks have long been portrayed in cinema, from The Andromeda Strain to Outbreak to Contagion. Is it pure fantasy to imagine an epidemic wiping out humanity? Or is it something we need to prepare for? Popular science writer Carl Zimmer will attempt to answer by looking at the history of real virus outbreaks and at cutting-edge research on previously unknown viruses that could potentially attack our species in the future.

About the Speaker

The New York Times Book Review calls Carl Zimmer "as fine a science essayist as we have." In his books, essays, articles, and blog posts, Zimmer reports from the frontiers of biology, where scientists are expanding our understanding of life. He is the author of 11 books about science, including A Planet of Viruses, Parasite Rex, and Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea. He writes regularly for The New York Times, National Geographic, Scientific American, and Discover, where he is also a contributing editor. Zimmer received the National Academies Communication Award and has won the American Association for the Advancement of Science Journalism Award twice. He is a lecturer at Yale University, where he teaches science writing. To his knowledge, he is the only writer after whom a species of tapeworm has been named.

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