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The Butterfly Effect (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jun 10, 2023

The Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly Effect


Starring Ashton Kutcher, Amy Smart, Kevin Schmidt, Melora Walters, Elden Henson, Eric Stoltz, John Patrick Amedori, Cameron Crigger, William Lee Scott, Brandy Heidrick, Ethan Suplee, Grant Thompson, Logan Lerman, Daniel Spink, Irene Gorovaia, Jesse Hutch, Jesse James, John B. Lowe, Kevin Ohtsji, Callum Keith Rennie, Sarah Widdows and Cameron K. Smith.

Screenplay by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber.

Directed by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber.

Distributed by New Line Cinema. 113 minutes.  Rated R.

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 create 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.

I 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 characters.

Ashton 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.

The 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.

Fast 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.

All of 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.  (1/04)

Alex Diamond

Copyright ©2004  All rights reserved. Posted: January 24, 2004.


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