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The Butterfly Effect|
cast: Aston Kutcher, Amy Smart, Melora Walters, Elden Henson and Eric Stoltz
directors: Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber
113 minutes (15) 2004
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Icon DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by Roger Keen
The title comes from Chaos Theory - the idea that something as ephemeral as a butterfly
flapping its wings can, due to chain reaction, have profound ramifications on the way things
pan out. Using that principle, The Butterfly Effect weaves an edgy existential-displacement
scenario that recalls
and 12 Monkeys, with more than an echo of
and indeed a much earlier film:
It's a Wonderful
Evan (Aston Kutcher), a college student with a troubled past, discovers that through
reading his journals he can travel back to the points in time that they describe and
retroactively alter history. And there is plenty in his past that could do with altering.
As a seven-year-old he suffered from blackouts, had a father in a secure mental institution,
and was sometimes left in the care of a family friend (Eric Stoltz) who made strange
movies in his basement, featuring his daughter Kayleigh and Evan without their clothes.
As young teenagers, Evan, Kayleigh, her brother Tommy and another friend Lenny get involved
in a prank that goes horribly wrong, leaving them all traumatised still further. Evan is
thought to be following in the footsteps of his mad father, whilst Tommy grows into a
psychopathic maniac and the adult Kayleigh (Amy Smart) commits suicide.
So Evan uses the time-travel facility to project his adult persona into his childhood
body and right the wrongs of the past. It is a somewhat drastic process, as due to the
butterfly effect a few small changes in the past can result in a radically transformed
present - a present Evan tumbles into unwittingly after doing his bit. For example,
after the first major episode he returns to find he is now an upmarket sorority student,
and his former grungy roommate doesn't know him. And messing with reality in this way
doesn't guarantee a smooth run, as the bad things of the past have a habit of catching
up with Evan in altered ways. Continually finding himself in all sorts of trouble in
his remodelled presents, Evan keeps resorting to the journals to tweak the past and
get a better result, and the whole process becomes increasingly compulsive and crazy.
The way in which these alternative presents manifest is very convincingly done, and
the underlying message - that if you change the parameters of reality, you're not going
to necessarily makes thing better only different - has a true life ring. It's a clever
film, which stands as much on the quality of Bress and Gruber's writing as their direction.
Although there are some flaws in the internal logic of the rationale, it is sufficiently
persuasive and captivating to drive the movie and create its own unique brand of suspense.
What lets it down, and demotes it from being a potentially great weird film is the ending,
which is un-satisfyingly abrupt and not the final pyrotechnic bang a film like this really
needs. But still there are some superb moments of metaphysical anguish that will linger
in the memory. The naturalistic acting of the principals complements the unnaturalness
of what is happening, and the use of special effects in the transitions from present to
past and back is workable and unfussy, and a bigger budget might have yielded less not
more in this area. The blending of mental disorder and science fiction is better thought
out than in Donnie Darko, though The Butterfly Effect lacks that movie's
striking overall resonance. Fans of one will probably like the other, and perhaps together
they point to a new emerging subgenre.
The package comes with a comprehensive set of extras - two commentaries, four documentaries,
plus deleted scenes and a trailer. The Creative Process has interviews with the
young directors, producer Chris Bender, Aston Kutcher, Eric Stoltz and others. It tells
of how the directors convinced the studio to back the project, and their belief in its
unusual, edgy approach and challenging content, such as child sexual abuse and child-on-child
violence. Behind The Visual Effects deals specifically with the creation of the
film's striking effects, particularly the transitions between past and present - how
their wobbliness and butterfly quality was carefully evolved, and how they were toned
to fit the feel of the movie. Chaos Theory and Time Travel are science-based
documentaries, where experts in the fields of physics, psychotherapy and film archives
discuss the tricksy nature of chaos theory and the perennial allure of the time travel
story. We learn that chaos is the natural order of the universe, and mankind's 'control'
merely an illusion. We also get a potted history of time travel movies, and see the
relationship of the time travel fantasy to psychotherapy - the perennial wish to re-write
and edit the past, to make it better. All in all the extras are very well thought-out
and valid, and interesting in their own right.