The Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly Effect (2004) movie poster

(2004) dir. Eric Bress, J. Mackye Gruber
viewed: 10/06/06

This was the second in my oddball sci-fi fest of films with lepidopteran titles.  Really, that is about all these two films really have in common,  the other being my previous entry: The Mothman Prophecies (2002).

I recall seeing a trailer for this movie and groaning internally.  Ashton Kutcher doesn’t rank high in my estimates of celebrity intelligence or talent.  I had no real plan to see this movie, but have always had a soft spot for bad science fiction.

This movie is not great.  It’s bad but not awful.  It has some surprising and interesting aspects about it, though.

It focuses on psychology, time travel, and personal experience.  Basically, Kutcher’s character has suffered from significant blackouts since childhood, a childhood with a couple of prominent points of trauma.  After trying to understand some experiences that start coming back to him, he contacts his childhood girl friend but stirs a trauma that leads to her suicide.  Somehow, he realizes that when he recaptures his lost memories, he is actually back in control of himself and can therefore make changes to these traumatic events.  It’s just that it only gets worse and worse every trip back, every time he tries to alter the outcome of their lives.

Actually, the variations on the events that are triggered initiate mild cultural critiques and a somewhat interesting take on guilt, responsibility and moral integrity.  Each time back, Kutcher’s character has to assess the reality that he is suddenly a part of and determine the trade-offs.  Most of them are clearly more tragic for other characters, but one leaves him with no hands and living essentially disabled though most everyone else is better off.  Only when he finds out that his mother is worse off, he decides that he can take another crack at “fixing” things in the past.

There is a lot to pick apart about the significance of each sequence.  But ultimately and I am giving away the ending here, he ends up realizing that the best thing for the world is if he had never been born.  So he goes back in time and commits suicide in the womb by wrapping his umbilical cord around his neck and negating his existence.  The baby suicide thing is pretty out there…something a little campy and maybe a little Cronenberg-like.  But what I found interesting was the overall message because the life that flashes before the screen showing the turns of events for the world without him, it truly is a better place for everyone if he had never existed.  And this has nothing to do with bad things that he has or hasn’t done, just simply a state of affairs.  The world is actually a better place in some cases if someone could actually eradicate their existence.  There is something essentially pessimistic, if not nihilistic about this, though its couched in a sequence of joy indicating that this was for “the better good”.

The other reading of this, which only came to me later, is some Christ-like quality to the character.  His death essentially redeems the rest of the world.  This is probably intended, actually, and perhaps it’s more evident in a second viewing (which I don’t intend to experience.)  I would suggest that this is a potential intended reading, but I stick to my prior analysis, pointing towards the choice to never have existed being better for the world.

Also, in the events of the past, the traumas of childhood mostly reverberate with some believability, maybe the weird, out of control ways that children find themselves in situations and become damaged because of them.  Somehow, this made an impression on me.

Still, Ashton Kutcher…

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