The Butterfly Effect
This film starts with an
explanation of the chaos theory; that
a butterfly flapping its wings in one place can cause a hurricane across the
world. It is a fascinating idea, one ripe with potential for a film...
that even the smallest actions creates ripples that grow and multiply to the
point that they cause a catastrophe.
It is a premise that this film only takes partial advantage of.
Actually, you go down the
line in time travel fiction and this is a theme that recurs almost
inevitably. In fact, the title of this film, beyond illustrating the
chaos theory, refers to a classic Ray Bradbury short story "A Sound of
Thunder." In that tale, a man goes back to the dinosaur age and mistakenly
steps on a butterfly, and when he goes back to his time he finds that he has
completely changed the course of history to a point where there is nothing
that he recognizes. The film also takes this
proposal in mind; if a person gets the ability to go back in time to right
old wrongs, how will he change others for the positive and the negative?
The movie skirts the issue a bit... the changes are dramatic for a core
group of people in this movie, and yet they do not seem to have a wider
reach, the rest of the world goes on pretty much as usual.
have to say right at the start, I love time travel films, so I went into
this one rooting for it. Now, having seen The Butterfly Effect,
I can say that it is not as good as I'd hoped, but it is a pretty effective
thriller and mostly worth the time invested. It often slips into kind
of distasteful areas; pedophilia, murder, kiddie porn, suicide, incest,
animal cruelty, prison sodomy, drug abuse, life at a fraternity, etc.
But overall the film has sort of a knuckle-headed morality, the machinations
of the plot do desperately try and undo the evil visited upon the main
Kutcher plays Evan. He is a psych major who specializes in memory.
He picked this field for
a reason. When he was a young boy, he had a series of blackouts,
mostly coinciding with particularly traumatic times in his life. His
father is locked away in a mental institution -- we are supposed to believe
that he is a murderer, though it is never out and out said why he is there.
His single mother (Melora Walters) is trying desperately to bring him up as
normally as possible, but she worries about the mental blocks. When a
teacher asks the class as a project to draw a picture of what they want to
be when they grow up, Evan blacks out so that he does not remember drawing a picture of a murderer
brandishing a knife.
teacher and the mother are worried by this picture (though neither notices
that the drawing is extraordinarily detailed and well done for an
seven-year-old) and Evan is taken to the same psychiatric hospital that his
father is locked up in. The doctor tells the mother to make Evan write
a daily journal as an exercise. Apparently neither the doctor or the
mother ever bothered reading what was in the journals though, or they would
know that when visiting a neighborhood boy and girl, their pedophile father
(Eric Stoltz, a well-respected actor sort of hitting rock bottom in
his career) forced Evan and the girl, Kayleigh, to make a kiddie porn video as
her brother Tommy watches. This starts all three children's lives
spiraling downhill, a few years later when a childhood prank turns deadly,
Evan's mom realizes his life is out of control and moves him away.
Evan promises Kayleigh that he'll come back to rescue her.
forward seven years, Evan has gotten his life together and he is a talented psych student.
He hasn't had a blackout since he moved. He never did return for
Kayleigh, though. One day,
when looking through his old journals, Evan realizes that as he reads the
words his world goes all woozy and he is able to go back and relive the
occurrences. (I have to admit to being a little disappointed with this
method of time-travel, if it were that easy, we'd all do it.) At
first, Evan just watches and fills in the blanks of his memory. But
then he comes to the realization that he could perhaps undo some of the bad
that had been done. However, every time he goes back in time to fix
things, it tends to backfire and make things worse than they were before.
Evan goes from a grade-A student to a stupid frat guy to a jailbird to an
amputee to a mental patient. Kayleigh flips futures from a depressed
waitress to a popular frat girl to a drug-addicted whore to a businesswoman.
Tommy goes from a twisted sadist to a murder victim to a nerdy student.
these things are interesting and the film does exert a real sense of dread
through much of the film. But even while you're watching it, the
gaping jumps of logic and plot holes are visible, and the more you think of
about them the more blatant they are. The Butterfly Effect is
more like a Cliff Notes version of the chaos theory. They had a pretty
good idea and they rode it as far and fast as they could take it, hoping
they could steamroll past the obvious problems in the storyline.
Surrender yourself to its logic and you'll have a relatively painless two
hour trip to the theater. Start thinking about it too much and it will
evaporate in your mind.
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Posted: January 24, 2004.