A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 385 – The Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly Effect – March 20th, 2011

We’ve had this movie for a while and I’ve been avoiding it. Back when it came out I remember seeing ads for it and thinking that the concept looked right up my alley. I do so enjoy the concept of alternate timelines and how one little difference can cascade into a huge change. But the movie also looked pretty damn dark and I could just never work myself into the right mood for it. It got not so great reviews, people have mentioned it being messy, and well, I just never got around to it. On purpose. It’s not Ashton Kutcher. I have no real issues with him, to be honest. It’s not the acting or the concept. It’s just, well, I enjoyed the ideas the movie presented, but I didn’t enjoy the movie and that’s about what I was expecting but not in so many words.

The thing about this movie is that it’s sort of taking the It’s a Wonderful Life thing and spinning it out into a whole new realm of possibilities that wouldn’t have been allowed on screen in Capra’s day. After all, no matter how horrible things seemed to George Bailey, his wife being a spinster librarian (I know I just mentioned that a few days ago but it cracks me up) is nothing in comparison to a heroin addicted prostitute. Which is what this movie presents us with as a possible outcome of changing a timeline. In order to show us just how bad tampering in the past can get, it has to go pretty dark. And then it has to go darker! It starts out bad to show us why our man character, Evan, feels like he has to go back and change things. And then it gets worse to keep Evan moving and changing more.

The movie starts out by bringing us along through Evan’s childhood where we meet his mother, find out his father’s institutionalized for an unspecified mental illness, and then meet his friends and go through a series of defining events for them. There’s an episode that’s strongly hinted at being sexual abuse at the hands of the father of two of Evan’s friends, Kayleigh and Tommy. There’s a prank gone wrong that apparently caused a great deal of damage and Evan’s friend Lenny in a catatonic state for a while. Evan and Kayleigh kiss. Tommy tries to kill Evan’s dog. Then Evan moves away. And through it all Evan has these little blackouts. He’ll come to and remember nothing of the prior few minutes. Later on, when Evan finds out that by reading his journals he can enter his past and alter his own actions we know that those blackouts signal a time when adult Evan’s been visiting.

It’s a bit of a time travel paradox, since the blackouts happen in the timeline that’s presented as being the original, but in that timeline he hasn’t changed anything so why would he have blacked out? Plotwise, the blackouts serve to tell Evan what the crucial points are that will be useful to him. I can handwave it, really. As a plot device, it works okay. It’s just that the movie gets so very dark as it goes on. And it starts with child abuse, a dead dog and a suicide, so getting worse from there? Yeah. Oh, the movie tries to trick you, initially jumping Evan and Kayleigh into a happy relationship in college where Evan’s in a frat and Kayleigh’s in a sorority and they’re madly in love. But you just know that they’re doomed. And so they are, when Tommy shows up and trashes Evan’s car, then Evan beats him in self defense and ends up in jail where more horrible things happen until he can get his journals and change something in the past. One by one he ruins his friends’ lives, then his own and his mother’s and then his own again. And then he has to figure out how to fix it.

The director’s cut ending for this movie is sort of the anti-It’s a Wonderful Life. Which I understand the point of, but I didn’t really like. Now, the theatrical ending? I can understand why it might feel like a cop out, but given just how bad some of this movie gets, it’s rather nice to see Evan actually get a life, even if it’s not the one he’d hoped to create. Oh well. Like I said, I like the concept of the movie and I liked a lot of the performances. I’ve got to hand it to Logan Lerman and John Patrick Amedori for playing the younger versions of Evan and then playing older Evan speaking through them when he goes back to change things. It can’t have been an easy thing to do and I liked the effect. So I liked the performances and I liked the concept. It’s just that the final product is, by its nature, unpleasant. Which is unfortunate but not unexpected. At least not for me.

March 20, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Butterfly Effect

March 20, 2011

The Butterfly Effect

I bought this movie at the same time that I bought Donnie Darko and watched them as a double bill. It was a kind of a mind bender of an afternoon. Both movies deal with wish fulfillment in a way, but this movie is far more direct about it. I was actually reluctant to watch this film that first time because it was billed as an Ashton Kutcher film, and I didn’t feel particularly jazzed about that. This movie is mesmerizing and fascinating though and it easily got under my skin.

The start of this movie is a little brutal to watch. It’s a movie about changing the past and what perils lie therein, so there’s a lot of ground to cover. Our hero Evan Treborn has had a traumatic childhood. It involves child pornography, the inadvertent detonation of an innocent baby, the brutal murder of a dog and other general nastiness. Every time one of these horrific events occurs he blacks out and can’t remember what happened. The point of all this is that when Evan is eventually all grown up and in college he eventually discovers that he can concentrate on his journals from the time and go back to those missing moments and re-live them. He can change those tipping points in his life and as a result change all the lives he’s connected with.

It’s the concept of the movie that grabs me more than the execution. Like Run Lola Run and Groundhog Day it explores that sort of “if I knew then what I know now” notion of re-doing your life and the alternate paths it can take. Unlike those movies it is a fairly gritty and unpleasant life that we’re witness to. The general theme of the movie is that there are drastic unintended results from our actions, particularly at these crucial turning points in our lives. Every time Evan goes back and tries to make things right they turn out worse in unexpected ways. Particularly in the director’s cut, which we watched tonight because it is a rule of the project that we will always watch the longest version of a film that we own, Evan can’t get a break and there’s a dreadful sense of inevitability to his final solution.

There are a few things in this movie that simply don’t make sense. One central theme is that whenever Evan changes the past and finds himself in a new reality the people around him don’t notice that anything has happened. Except when it serves the plot for them to notice. At one point he goes back and gives himself some scars to prove to his cellmate in prison that he has this ability and his cellmate is suitably impressed. It doesn’t make sense given what we’ve seen so far of his ability. What should happen is that his cellmate sees the scars and is like “Yeah? So what – you had those scars when you came in here.” And there are unanswered questions set up right at the start of the film like why did he draw that bizarre picture in class? We keep expecting some kind of answer and get nothing.

Putting aside these little complaints and the general bleak tone of the movie though I have to admit that it’s a pretty good film. Not a happy film by any means, even with the less-dark theatrical ending, but a good film. I’m a sucker for the core concept – even if this movie takes it in a pretty uncomfortable direction. The progressively more bleak alternate realities that Evan finds himself in are interesting extrapolations from the past. There are some cool digital effects done on a shoestring budget, which I always appreciate. And there are even some good performances.

In particular Amy Smart is fantastic as Evan’s childhood crush Kayleigh. Most of Evan’s efforts revolve around attempts to save her and in many of the alternative worlds she is very badly broken by the events of the past. Amy gets some very difficult scenes to play as the emotionally damaged Kayleigh and she delivers some great emotional impact for the film. I had also forgotten that Elden Henson plays one of Evan’s other friends in the various alternate realities and he’s awesome too. (I remember being very impressed by him when we reviewed Marilyn Hotchkiss.) As for Ashton himself? He’s perfectly acceptable. Evan is a generally likable guy who turns out pretty much okay most of the time in his various alternative presents, and Ashton plays him as generally likable.

I really like this kind of movie. Movies that explore how changes or foreknowledge allow people to alter their lives. This particular example is pretty brutal, but that doesn’t stop me liking it. I think I enjoy the theatrical cut better than the director’s cut, even though there’s more explanation for Evan’s affliction and a more epic feel to the director’s cut. Maybe we should add Peggy Sue Got Married to our collection so we have another example of the genre to examine.

March 20, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment