The Butterfly Effect
starring Ashton Kutcher, Amy Smart, Eric Stoltz, William Lee Scott, Elden Henson,
LoganLerman, Jesse James, Ethan Suplee and Melora Walters
written and directed by Eris Bress and J. Mackye Gruber
Evan (Ashton Kutcher) has suffered blackouts and memory loss since he was a child. These memory losses focus on extremely unpleasant incidents surrounding his childhood involvement with Kayleigh (Amy Smart) and her sadistic, sexually abused brother, Tommy. His life is a tale of pain intertwined with the suffering of Kayleigh, the love of his life, at the hands of her sadistic brother. But because of his memory gaps he is at a loss to explain the pain he feels. Kayleigh’s response to a lifetime of parental neglect, abuse and despair is suicide. As an adult, Evan discovers a way to recover his memories by traveling back in time, a facility that also gives him the chance to fix the wrongs and prevent the mistakes that virtually destroy the lives of the entire trio.
The problem, though, is that every time he goes back in time Evan makes things worse, and then returns to an unrecognizably altered present. This is the butterfly effect - the premise that even the smallest thing can lead to an entirely new reality. The flutter of a butterfly’s wings in Beijingcan lead to rain in New York’sCentral Park by means of a totally unpredictable, chaos-driven chain reaction. It’s the stuff of Fractal Geometry and Chaos Theory. Going back in time and altering events creates a different stream of future time. Evan goes back in time to do good by changing something, and he does. But the outcome is not good but disastrous because interfering in events does not change who we are as individuals, which is the more important factor in our lives. In part I was reminded of the 1985 Robert Zemeckis movie Back to the Future, in which Doctor Emmet Brown (Christopher Lloyd) warns Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) that knowing too much about one’s future can endanger one’s very existence just as Marty endangered his by interfering with his parents’ first meeting in high school in 1955 in the town of Hill Valley.
The Butterfly Effect is an interesting premise that I like, but I was very dissatisfied with this film. Too much time was spent painting the trio’s childhood and adolescence. Evan’s adult experiences of going back in time (using his childhood journals as a medium) could each have been made into a movie of its own.
The most disturbing - and best acted - part of the film was the portrayal of 13-year-old Tommy by Jesse James (an interesting name). Contrary to what we initially assume, Tommy was the object of his father’s pedophilia, not his sister. We learn this only much later in the film as an explanation for the sociopathic cruelty of this sadistic teenage punk. Tommy is the kind of monster that you just hope and pray gets whacked or run over - the sooner and uglier, the better.
Evan is treated as a severely mentally ill individual. His talk of going back in time, and of alternate universes is exactly the kind of talk that sends doctors rushing to their medicine cabinets for a vial of Thorazine. But from a technical viewpoint it is an interesting and poignant point. Theoretical mathematicians don’t hide the fact that for our universe to operate as it does requires the theoretical co-existences of at least 37 other universes. I bet you didn’t know that, did you? Don’t ask me about it, because I don’t
understand it myself. The point here, though, is that no one is mentally ill just because some doctor thinks so, and we would be wrong to dismiss the mentally ill as wrong. Being crazy does not mean that they are not right. But I think doctors would have us believe the contrary as a conservative strategy to guard of their social position as a profession.
Additionally, many philosophers expound upon the necessity of positing the real existence in different space-time continua of alternate outcomes of each and every action in this dimension. In other words, if something could happen, then it must happen, and we need to make space in our ideas of reality to accommodate it. The multiplicity of universes must all be connected somehow at a nexus below, or beyond our threshold of consciousness.
Or, maybe not. This is the stuff of late night sophomore gab sessions. Fun, ain’t it? Personally, I like to think that the nexus of dimensions is under my childhood bed where the monstrous crocodile lingers at night, or inside my old bedroom closet where the Bigfoot hides. I’m not crazy.