BUTTERFLY EFFECTLEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES | Jan 20, 2003
In Theatres Jan 23
SHE-SAID: What if every time you blundered or struggled, you could turn back time-- no wait, wait a minute. That’s too corny. What if every negative moment your subconscious chose to suppress was merely an ephemeral escape into what deserved to be destiny? What if this said destiny altered the lives of your friends and family? Okay, back to the beginning. Would you turn back time in order to save your loved ones? Would you make a movie about it?
What may perplex audiences after viewing this complex and clinically adept film (based on the Chaos Theory), is the absence of a catalyst. Pshaw, you might say, since the main character sacrifices everything in order to erase the mistakes he and others have made. But a true catalyst evokes the innermost desires; can resolve the harshest inner conflicts. In Reality, a direct result of a rift in a four-dimensional timeline would mean the continuation of each created branch. We’ve seen it in Donnie Darko and, of course, Back to the Future. That means that once these branches occur, they exist. Just as supplanted memories fester and exaggerate, can suppressed tragedies allow us to lead a "normal" life? In Mainstream Movieland, fortunately, there is only the one true absolute. The one that gives us that fuzzy feeling when we leave the theatre. Will this be that type of movie? I can’t say, but I will disclose its secret of avoiding unrequited love: Don’t be a putz.
Love (oh no, here comes that crazy Love talk again) is what we express in order to explain how attracted or how comfortable we are with another person. Lust almost never resides solely with a main movie couple. True Love must triumph and True Love IS the freaking catalyst. Get that and you will get this movie. If you have never ever made a single mistake in your entire life, or never wished you could retract or prevent a negative memory, or if you never wanted to tell your best friend’s father to quit making porno movies of her and her brother in the basement, comprehending this movie will not be easy. By the way, Eric Stoltz is certainly making a name for himself in the “inappropriate molestation” category. To think that at one time he was considered by Hollywood to be interchangeable with Michael J. Fox!
Amidst the intermittent (rare, but prominent) cheesy dialogue, occasional radio-stream tunes, and uneven casting (Kutcher, Smart, and the aforementioned Stoltz are stellar, while the others yank you right out of the suspension of disbelief and into a sitcom) there’s a truly wonderful concept and creative mind lurking about. J. Mackye Gruber and Eric Bress (of Final Destination 2 screenwriting fame) must’ve been a psych majors or something. The in-depth reiteration of the psyche is phenomenal in this movie. Needless to say, social commentary peeks, peaks and even dares to poke fun at Christianity, the prison caste, and the college caste. If not for Kutcher, these attempts may have failed miserably.
You’ll find amazing parallels and tangents in the characters’ personalities, which doesn’t stoop to over-the-top abstraction. There is a realistic thread throughout every single story and every single chapter. There is motivation and depth in every conscious decision these characters make (i.e.: starting and/or quitting smoking) guiding us to wonder if we really are just a construct of our habits and our peers’ expectations. How our upbringing and childhood events lend themselves directly to what we become, and more importantly, how we treat others and expect to be treated in the societal realm.
(Just wanted to shout a special thanks to "CapnT" who hooked me up with this and so many other screemers. You sweet mofo, I'm gonna totally embarrass you, mwuahhaaa! Seriously, I am sooo incredibly grateful for our “accidental” introduction and would not change a thing about our friendship. Thanks so much man!)
The Butterfly Effect is a very ambitious film. Tackling everything from child pornography, animal cruelty, incest, prostitution, mental instability, fate, to love, you have to admire what this near two-hour “horror” flick is trying to accomplish. But this film has more in common with sci-fi fare (ie: Sliders, Quantum Leap) and amazing mind bending meditations on alternate, branching realities (such as explored to great effect in Linklater’s Slacker) than any categorical “horror” flick, as it apparently is being marketed.
The Butterfly Effect follows protagonist Evan Treborn (Ashton Kutcher) as he manually tries to right past wrongs by traveling back in time. But there’s a catch. Evan cannot travel back in time to any old moment. He can only access those (fate junctions?) so life altering that he actually blacked out when experiencing them. To help himself gain access to these blocked memories he scours his old journal entries, only to have time shift, as he physically enters his past. His actions in revisiting the past affect not only his future, but everyone’s around him. Even the slightest changes cause grave consequences down the line, not unlike the “choose your own adventure” novels of the 80’s.
While the Butterfly Effect is a wonderfully engaging story, it is also amazingly unbalanced. As Kris has mentioned, certain performances are superb, while others pull you so far out of the story you want to bitch-slap the actor out of the picture. This also applies to the story’s plot twists. Some are extremely intriguing, and some are so absurd they seem to have been ripped from the WB after school Sci-Fi special. Now this could be a problem with the overall story structure, or it could be a problem with the “streamlined” version of the film. As Fangoria had reported, the filmmakers had worried their original ending, as well as some plot points would be too controversial for the censors to grant an R rating, so they toned down the theatrical version of the film, saving the original, pure moments for a Director’s Cut DVD release.
While they don’t really provide a concrete explanation for how Evan “physically” travels back in time through his journals, I’m extremely glad they left it alone. Sometimes when things are not explained in totality the audience is forced to enlist the aid of an underused tool called, “imagination.” It’s actually quite fun to come up with different pseudo-scientific ways for Evan to physically manifest himself in his past. Truly a “whoa” conversation piece.
I also appreciated the realistic portrayal of the kids at their different ages. I remember seeing SE7EN in the theater when I was a freshman in high school, so it was refreshing to see the kids doing the same, at the same age. Also of note were the kids getting into realistic trouble for their ages. From 14-15 were my years of greatest turbulence. Fights, civil disobedience, mean spirited pranks, and anti-authoritarian bents were a way of life. While no one ever tried to kill my dog, it is fairly accurate for the age range.
Even though I had my problems with The Butterfly Effect, I would still recommend it. Since these problems were fairly few and far between, I imagine they will be cleared up in the Director’s Cut DVD release. As of now, the Theatrical Cut is a fun ride, and definitely worth the price of a ticket.