Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The Butterfly Effect

Warning! Usually our reviews do not contain spoilers, but this one does. DON'T read any further if you don't wish to hear plot details about the film.

2004's The Butterfly Effect attempts a Memento-like feat in presenting a puzzle of time and space, hoping the viewer won't get too frustrated along the way. At the end, much like that film, you're not quite sure what you watched, but you know you're disturbed by it.

Ashton Kutcher, as Evan Treborn, tries a rare dramatic approach in portraying a young man who has a history of blackouts during crucial times in his life. He has never been able to figure out what happened in that time, but all of his childhood friends were profoundly, and negatively, affected by these events. Along the way, a doctor suggests that he keep a journal of what happens every day. When the blackouts suddenly appear after a seven-year absence, Evan goes back to the journals to figure out what's going on.

The "R" rating for this film doesn't tell the whole story, just as "sexual content" and "violence" do not tell the disturbing aspects of this film. I found myself drawn to this film and horrified by it from the very beginning. Evan's blackout scenes contain moments of child abuse, terrible violence, and the inability of a child to change them as they occur.

Evan suddenly finds that, by reading his journals, he is catapulted back into time, back into that terrible moment (and there were several) in his life. He is an adult within the seven-year-old body, and is actually able to make sense of what's going on, finally. He discovers what cripples his friends. The movie is his attempt to go back and change these events for the better. However, at each step along the way, he fails momentously, and even makes things worse. At the end of the film, the viewer isn't quite sure whether this is an incredible time-jumping reality, or all a fantasy in Evan's amazing imagination.

This story is not "Memento." It's actually better in some aspects. The acting is superb, as this young company -- especially Amy Smart as "Kayleigh," Evan's girlfriend, and a rare appearance by Eric Stoltz as the pedophile father of his friends -- have to go through several transformations and come out as different adults, depending upon how their childhood was changed. It's a fascinating evolution. However, because there are too many characters involved, stilted dialogue, and confusion in the many changes, it's a story that defies linear progression. It's tough to keep all the strings straight enough to appreciate the impact of the ending.

If you can stand the objectionable parts of the film (intense violence against children and animals, prison scenes suggesting oncoming rape, and a whole lot more), this is an intriguing movie with a lot going for it. Thumb's up for Ashton's career change.


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