The Butterfly Effect review by The Grim Ringler

Friends, you are gathered here to hear my confession. Like all good people, I have sinned. Lord, I have sinned. I can’t quite say when my last confession was but I dunno that I have sinned as I have sinned now. Oh how I have sinned. And I hope you, my friends, can forgive a silly man his foibles. But what’s that you ask, what is this sin of which I speak, oh friends, it’s the sin that must not be named. But for you, shall name it. I, the Grim Ringler, like an Ashton Kutcher film. Yes, I know, I have committed the sin of sins when it comes to film. I never meant to like him or ANY of his films, honest, but it happened. It happened and, and, and I don’t care. Butterfly Effect, a movie I was curious about seeing when it opened, has proven not just to be good, but very good. Holy cats! Whod’a thunk it?

Since he was a child, Evan (THE Ashton Kutcher) has suffered from black outs. While these aren’t life threatening, as they become more and more frequent, he finds that he is losing moments and memories from his childhood until all of his adolescence is riddled with holes and he becomes disconnected from his past and himself as a result. When he is older and still unsure what his past was, he stumbles upon his old journals and finds that, by reading what he had written, he can go back to that moment and re-live it and even change it from what it was. What he finds though, when he travels back to his past, is not just what happened in those lost moments, but that who he is, was, and can be, has been greatly affected by a long line of tragic events which are perhaps better left lost. Seeing the dark things from his past, Evan decides to change them, to change his past for the better, in the hopes that some of the pain he – and others – suffered, would be wiped clean. But what seems like a great idea at first changes the lives of not just him, but of everyone who he has touched, changing the world, to a degree, and the future, past, and all in between. And the more Evan works to change things for the better, the worse things keep turning out, until it seems that there is no way to return to the way things were, to change them for the better, or to escape this spiral he has created that is sucking everything good away from him. Worse yet, the more Evan changes his past, the more pressure it puts on his brain and the closer he gets to giving himself permanent brain damage. So Evan, in a race against time, must find some way to salvage the damage he has done, and to create a balance he, and everyone can live with.

To give more of this film away is really to take some of the power the film has. I went into it knowing enough to be intrigued, but no more. Boy was I surprised at how dark a film this is. What Evan finds in his past are a series of adolescent nightmares that, in the end, you almost wonder if he wasn’t better of not knowing. But too, it is that quest for the truth that presents the problem here. The two main ideas are thus – are some things better left unknown? And just because we might want to change the past, it doesn’t mean we should.

A lot of films have been made about the nature of time travel but I am not sure that any has taken the approach that Butterfly Effect save one, and that film is Donnie Darko. Evan is a man that wants nothing more than to be happy, and that happiness, it turns out, is linked to the fate, and happiness, of a girl he was a friend with as a child and who he came to love. But the idea of a butterfly effect makes the chances of that very unlikely as everything good that Evan can do in the past, has a splintering effect, like an aftershock, that changes the rest of the lives of those around Evan, many times changing things for the worse. The real horror of this film is not that Evan can change the past, but that changing it doesn’t always make it better. That sometimes we need the pain, we need the misery, and we need the awfulness in our lives to make us who we are to be. The moral of this film, in the end, truly is you can’t go home again. There is a point in the film where you want nothing more than for Evan to give up, to let life play out, but once the cycle has begun, there is no way out. There is no escape. What he has created, again, like Donnie Darko, is a downward spiral that can only get worse unless he can figure a way to change things. To break the cycle. Which seems unlikely. There is also though, amongst the darkness, a wonderful notion of returning to your youth with the wisdom of age, to be able to stop someone from making mistakes that truly will change lives. What a wonderful notion, to have the chance to stop a tragedy. But again, the horror lies beyond that change. The change, like a stain, spreads over everything, and sometimes the averted tragedy isn’t always worth the effect it has.

As crazy as it is, Ashton Kutcher is very good in this. He brings a seriousness we aren’t accustomed to seeing from him and which anchors the film. Without his anchor, without his earnestness, this film falls apart. The premise is one that can easily dissolve into cynicism or sentimentality and the filmmakers, with Kutcher, keep the film honest. This is a dark film, about a dark past, and nothing is played for laughs. Another key to the film’s success is that nothing is completely explained. We learn that Evan gets his ‘gift’ from his father, but nothing else. Sure, I’d love to hear their explanation of the hows and whys, but those are inconsequential. What DOES matter is that Evan can return to his past, via his journals, and can effect change on that past. And his reasons for returning to the past never stray from being noble. It might have been interesting to see the changes corrupt him, to make him slowly degrade as a person, but the idea here is that the soul is the same, no matter what, it’s just the events that shape that soul that change the person. Nifty. The direction is also very well handled and the story is always centered on the actors. The supernatural/science fiction element is almost secondary here.

The great failing of the film is that for many, it will be too dark. Too grim. And I can see that. This film deals with child molestation, murder, drug addiction, a whole ocean of issues, and it gets hard to watch. But in fairness, the film goes where it must. This isn’t meant to be a happy film. This is meant to be something that makes you think about consequence and about fate. What are we fated for? And can we change that fate? The gripe I have is that the handling of the film does begin to feel so episodic that it reminded me of watching either the original, or the remake of Bedazzled, and that takes some of the emotional impact away because you feel like – well, he can just change it again. There feels like no consequences are going to befall him. Almost. I think that the film does this because it has to, we have to see that, no matter what he does, Evan cannot escape the spiral. But it does push the believability of things.

The disc sounded and looked very good, though I can’t tell you how the extras are or how well the surround works as I watched this at a friend’s house. But, I would highly recommend the film and will buy it myself some day.

I think this is a very well made speculative thriller. If you can get past the Ashton factor, you are in for a very dark, very gripping film that will leave you with a lot to think about when it’s over. I recommend it highly.


8 out of 10 Jackasses
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