The Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly Effect

I am a horrible person to watch movies with. Everyone always likes to talk about what they liked or disliked about the picture they just watched. I’m usually the guy who gives a disappointing one word review: “Meh…”

It usually means that I totally hated the film but I’m keeping that to myself for now. I hate to be Buzz Killington and spoil the mood when I clearly see that everyone else has enjoyed it. Either that or the movie was a mix of things good and bad and I just need some time and distance before I can give it a definitive thumbs up or thumbs down. Once I think it over, I usually post a blog entry here in which I divulge my opinion.

People actually figured that out by now. The other day someone asked me about Wolverine and I truthfully admitted that it was atrocious. Another friend rolled his eyes and said “why are you asking Luke about this, the guy is a fucking movie critic.” I found that pretty amusing. Also I’ve been scolded by a Twilight fan for my negative review IRL but that’s a whole other story. Either way, I don’t actually enjoy summer blockbusters and so called popcorn movies the same way as most people do.

The movies that I really enjoy are the ones that will move me, disturb me, fuck with my mind and shake me to the core. I want a movie to leave me with that uneasy feeling that I can’t shake off for days. Those are truly great movies – and there are precious few of them out there.

Sometimes I have a good sense to stay clear of the really bad movies. This doesn’t happen often, because I hardly ever pass up an occasion to go see a picture on a big screen. I like it for the experience itself. Not to mention the fact that bad movies make for good reviews. But if no one drags me out to see a bad movie, I can usually be blissfully ignorant of it’s badness. This is what happened when Butterfly Effect originally came out.

Let’s face it, it a serious movie headlined by Ashton Kutcher and Amy Smart – two actors known best for wacky comedies. Last time I checked, casting comedic actors in roles that require serious dramatic range was a recipe for a train wreck. Not that I have anything against Ms. Smart. I liked her ever since she took her top off in Road Trip but not necessarily for her acting skills. Kutcher however is someone I’d love to see punched in the face repeatedly. Which actually happens in this movie quite a bit, but I digress…

The casting choice combined with pretty bad reviews in the press (and by press I mean the internet – do they actually still sell dead tree newspapers and magazines?) convinced against seeing it. Few days ago I watched Butterfly on a whim – we were simply looking for something entertaining. I approached it with very low expectations knowing in my heart of hearts that it will be a suck-fest. I expected bad jokes, and Kutcher constantly grinning at the camera and throwing out silly one liners while having his misadventures in time. I was totally prepared to write yet another scathing review.

What happened next surprised me. Ashton Kutcher was only mildly annoying and semi-competent in his role. Amy Smart was actually doing a great job as his troubled love interest. Most importantly however, the movie did not suck. It was actually pretty thoughtful and tackled the overused concept of time travel pretty well.

Kutcher plays a young man with a strange psychological disorder which makes him block out particularly disturbing memories. This issue seems to be hereditary, since his symptoms closely mirror those of his father who eventually ended up in an insane asylum. These memory blackouts happen to him quite often since his childhood is pretty messed up. He is sexually molested, he is almost strangled by his father, his childhood shenanigans cause a horrific and tragic accident, he sees his dog being tortured and then burned alive and etc.. Because he is able to block out these memories he turns out fine. He moves away from his home town, goes to college and becomes a promising psychology major.

One day however he finds the journals that he wrote ever since he was a kid, and when he re-reads them his memories start flooding back. Each time he reads an entry that deals with one of the traumatic events he blocked out he experiences a vivid flashback. During this flashbacks he is taken back to his childhood, to relive the event in a vivid, realistic manner but he retains his adult memories. This allows him to change change the outcome of each flashbacks – and no two of them are ever the same. However when he does something that changes the outcome of the flashback (ie he prevents an accident from happening), the world changes around him. When his consciousness returns, he wakes up in a changed world.

Unsurprisingly his meddling with the time line usually changes things for worse. Whenever he saves one person, he completely ruins some other persons life. Each time he changes something the time line gets worse, and his brain gets more damaged as it tries to re-write his memories. This is of course depicted using the standard Hollywood cliche – a nose bleed. Cause you know, nose bleed == brain damage.

It is a fairly standard time travel scenario – changing past is tricky, and you will usually fuck things up when you try it. Butterfly Effect handles it in a fairly competent way. One could argue that the script is a bit over the top and it goes to extreme lengths to make the alternate time lines to be as disturbing as possible. It is true, a little subtlety could go a long way here. Most of the alterations the hero makes could lead to much lest drastic alternate futures which would still not be satisfactory and prompt him to do some more time meddling. Then again, you have to remember this film stars Ashton Kutcher who might be many things but subtle aint’ one of them. So while the plot might be a little heavy handed, it works.

I did not mind that the script was driving the points home with a sledgehammer. This extremist approach could be viewed both as a flaw or as one of the strengths of this movie. The movie made me uneasy and I was almost mesmerized as it was stacking one shocking or disturbing image on top of the other. It affected me somehow, made me care about the characters and kept me guessing as to what happens next.

Butterfly Effect is definitely worth watching. I find it surprising too, but I really enjoyed it. If you haven’t seen it yet, it is at least worth a rental. So put it on your net flicks queue, set your expectations to medium and enjoy.

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14 Responses to The Butterfly Effect

  1. gabe UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    i had a similar experience with this movie years ago. i pulled it off the shelf for no particular reason expecting it to be awful, and was then completely surprised and entertained. i wouldn’t go so far as to call it a good movie, but it certainly kept my interest and made me think. in my experience the most important factor for my enjoyment of a movie is low-expectations…

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  2. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Saw it on TV a while back, found it entertaining enough to hold my interest for the length of the film. I agree the consequences of his meddling were pretty extreme (seemed to be snowballing, getting worse and worse with every trip… I guess that was so there was no point where he could stop and say “that’s it, it’s better than last time, I’m done with trying to fix it”) but it made for dramatic watching.

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  3. Alphast NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I actually liked the film. It is not a great movie, but it makes it point efficiently (if without too much subtlety). Some scenes are quite disturbing (such as the timeline in jail and the way it ends…), but most of the things which would be too graphic are happening off field. All in all, I liked it.

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  4. Ever since Ashton Kutcher (and all those others) did that “pledge to be a servant to the president” nonsense I don’t think I could ever watch a movie with him in it. I would think of that video the entire time.

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  5. Garrick UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Spoiler Alert
    The alternate ending had a interesting twist if I remember right (it has been a couple years since I saw it). Ashtons character jumps back into himself as a fetus and strangles himself with his umbilical cord to prevent all these horrible things from happening.
    /Spoiler Alert

    It was a pretty twisted movie that snowballed almost as bad as “Requiem for a Dream” (which I highly recommend if you haven’t seen it).

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  6. copperfish Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    It always struck me as a very commercial Donnie Darko, similar time twists and angsty main character but it just seemed like a poor copy.

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  7. dawn SWITZERLAND Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    I have to warn you, Luke: don’t watch the sequel! (Unless you want to write a review for yet another really bad film…)

    By the way, European films don’t mess your brain as much as, say, Primer or Fight Club, but there are a few rather good French and German films which don’t leave you at rest until you’ve discussed them with cinephile friends for a few days. I have to think about what exactly to recommend, though…

    As for being what I call a “movie snob”, I think that people are missing something when they aren’t watching movies with a critical eye. Come on, it’s half of the fun.

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  8. Tino UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    I had the same experience: Who would expect a good serious Kutcher movie? But it really was good. Dawn is also right about the sequel: it is one of these absolutely horrible sequels that is just a remake with smaller budget, worse actors, and a deteriorated script that adds absolutely nothing for people who have seen the original. It is like if someone would take a famous panting, re-paint it with crayons, and then piss all over the result. And then try to display it for money to the same people who liked the original. And [i]even that[/i] would far surpass the cultural contribution of these crappy remake sequels.

    However, there is even a third movie out now, and if one like “mild horror” as a genre it has some value. One can see it without the second, there are no connections.

    [quote]Most of the alterations the hero makes could lead to much lest drastic alternate futures which would still not be satisfactory and prompt him to do some more time meddling.[/quote]

    I think you are missing a point here. The title of the movie is “Butterfly effect”, and I have never seen a movie that better illustrates the idea of that concept. The whole point is that the smallest changes in a single event would make a major difference for your life.

    *spoiler about alternative ending*
    @Garrick: I also found the alternate ending interesting. For once an “alternate ending” that really is different. Also, did you notice how it tied in with his mother talking about all her prior miscarriages? One extreme interpretation is that his prior brothers/sisters went through the same horrible experiences with the same outcome…
    *end spoiler*

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  9. ZeWrestler UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I was going to comment about the alternate ending, but Garrick beat me too it.

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  10. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @Matt`: Yup, that’s correct. What really bothered me is that he has not tried to correct the mailbox incident better. First time around he stands to close to the box so he gets crippled. Fine. Next time he goes back, he goes further to the past to destroy the dynamite and kills Keileigh in the process.

    Why couldn’t he just go back to the mailbox scene and this time around keep the fucking distance from the thing. This way his chubby friend survives, he is not a cripple and the angry kid finds Jesus and his mom doesn’t pick up smoking. Everyone wins, no?

    I mean, he pretty much could pick any one of these scenes and keep going back tweaking it until it was perfect. But that would be less dramatic I guess.

    @Garrick: I heard about that ending but I haven’t seen it. It does seem a bit extreme and I guess that’s why they took it out of the movie. After all if he can just burn his journals and childhood pictures to prevents himself from tampering with time, then suicide in the womb does not make much sense. Still kinda intriguing. Wasn’t there also a bit about his mother having a miscarriage several times before (suggesting that these children also had this power and came to the same conclusion as Kutcher and decided to prevent their own birth).

    @copperfish: Hmm… I didn’t see that parallel. It didn’t seem like they were really trying to copy it – they sort of went in a completely different direction. Donnie Darko was a very different movie – and a much better one. At least IMHO. But maybe you are right – maybe they tried to make a similar picture in theme/mood.

    @dawn: No worries. I’m staying clear from the sequel. For that matter, I heard they made a sequel to Donnie Darko as well (since we are talking about that movie) – and I’m also definitely not watching that.

    I have yet to see a sequel which is as good or better than the original.

    @Tino: I guess you are right. Still, if we are really trying to illustrate Butterfly Effect the effects were a bit too tame. Note that his alterations only affected the 3-4 people he knew. We really didn’t get to see a big picture here. There were probably dozens of people these characters could have nudged in different directions during their life – so I wouldn’t be surprised if his alterations wouldn’t for example change who is the president of United States or something like that.

    Also, for half of the movie I assumed he just can’t go back to the same scene twice – and that’s why he always tries to correct different parts of the time line. Then he goes back to the molestation scene again. Which made me wonder why he couldn’t do that to begin with. Re-live the mailbox scene until it was perfect. Or go back to the molestation scene and tell the father to be nice to his son as well to prevent him from becoming a dangerous delinquent.

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  11. Tino UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    @Luke Maciak: “Still, if we are really trying to illustrate Butterfly Effect the effects were a bit too tame.”

    The fact that you first complained that the effects were too extreme, and now when you think of them as examples of the butterfly effect, you think that they were too tame, makes me think that they probably got them exactly right… :)

    I’m not sure how you concluded that bigger changes didn’t occur. It is just that if you want the audience to *feel* the butterfly effect, rather than just dryly understand it, it makes sense to focus on the extreme changes in his immediate life.

    I was also surprised of him returning to the molestation scene. As you say, it would have made much more sense if he could only re-live his memory blanks once.

    On a completely unrelated note: yarrr :)

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  12. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @Tino: Yeah, you might be right.

    Re: pirate party thing, that is awesome. See, this is the nice thing about having a multi-party system. People can actually create a party and win an EU seat and perhaps even make a change to the national policy. I’m pretty sure that the big Pirate Bay media circus helped them a lot.

    I doubt that our pirate party is ever going to amount to anything.

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