The Butterfly Effect

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Rarely have I been as pleasantly surprised by a film as by The Butterfly Effect. Apparently the secret is to get your expectations set excruciatingly low, and then see the film for free. Worked like a charm here.

That said, for much of the film I felt like I was watching a TV movie-- the production values, the way it was shot, the pacing. I think a lot of the blame goes to Melora Waters' shrill one-note voice, which created no pathos for her plight as a single mother with a child who just might have the same mental illness that hospitalized her husband. In a cast of odd performances, hers got my attention in much the same way as fingernails on a blackboard.

The high concept is that Evan (Ashton Kutcher) has the genetic ability to travel back in time simply by reading his own journals (or viewing photographs) from the past. When an old friend commits suicide, Evan starts jumping in time to try to save her, and winds up causing changes he didn't anticipate.

Like most time travel films (with the notable exception of the Back to the Future trilogy which gets it right), the metaphysics are murky and convenient to the plot. When Evan changes a pivotal event from his youth, the impact is significant enough to turn him from a gifted student into an obnoxious frat boy. A key incident from later in his childhood, however, is unaffected-- neatly allowing him to jump back to it when his idyllic frat-boy life goes horribly awry. Hmph. In fact, his journal entries seem to remain constant throughout all the historical rewrites. I kept waiting for Evan to find himself trapped in one of his new timelines, with no journals or photos to use as a launching pad. But that's not where this movie was headed.

I liked how the new timeline's events were painfully dumped into Evan's brain upon his arrival, but there's no explanation for why the memories from old timelines remain. Visually, in fact, we see them disintegrate-- so the film is inconsistent even on its own terms. Of course, we never get any explanation for why Evan and his father even have this time-traveling ability in the first place.

The butterfly effect-- the notion that very small inputs can have far-ranging and unexpected consequences-- is of course the whole point of time travel films. I'd have liked to have seen this explored on a grander scale, with Evan's changes having consequences beyond the film's characters, but that too was beyond this film's scope. Instead, the film tries to explore as far as possible within its own narrow parameters, and on those terms does a credible job.

And it has what may be the single unintentionally-funniest sequence in film history, when Kutcher runs through the halls of an asylum like a doofus. Watch for it near the end of the film. That alone was certainly worth my price of admission.

8 Comments

Funny that you mention "Back to the Future" here. The very idea of screwing with your past having exponential changes of your future was executed brilliantly in BTTF, I wonder how it was handled here.

Is this more of the same kind of Kutcher has starred in recently, or is there some way that the audience can get involved with the story? In any event, "The Butterfly Effect" seems like a too-obvious title, I'm amazed no one has done that yet. I like good thought provoking films, should I go see this now, wait for the half-price matinee, DVD, or skip it entirely?

Its all about the expectation management here!
If you think you are going in for a thought provoking film, you are going to be in for a groaner- or you will be trying to make more of it than is actually there (see Peter's review).
This flick is goofy engaging teensploitation fun, a good half-price matinee, or even better- free.

I actually liked the casting of Melora Waters here. I immediately recognized her, or rather her voice, as the ditzy blonde painter/porn star from Boogie Nights. But what struck me about that bit of casting was the appropriateness of her voice to a movie about childhood traumas. As any long time listener of Loveline will tell you (or any student of pop-psychobabble), women with voices like children very often experienced childhood traumas. Since I knew a little about the plot going in, I made this connection immediately. Whether it was intentional or not, I appreciated the synergy of the effect.

"As any long time listener of Loveline will tell you (or any student of pop-psychobabble), women with voices like children very often experienced childhood traumas."

really? it seems more likely the other way around. that women who have experienced childhood traumas don't develop adult voices.

Isn't that what I said? If you hear a childlike voice in a woman (symptom), then you can suspect that she went through some trauma in her youth (cause). However you slice it, it's the same thing in my book.

got it. just read it different.

Dana is correct on the logic. People with nasal congestion (symptom) usually have colds (cause) is different from people with colds (cause) usually have nasal congestion (symptom). People with nasal congestion could be having allergies. Ergo, women with childlike voices may just have a high voice.

They very well could, which is why I said they "very often experienced childhood traumas". Very often they did. Sometimes they just have high voices. I never made the claim that all women with high voices were traumatized, nor that all girls who are traumatized will grow up with squeeky voices. Both are patently untrue. But there is a high percentage of girls/women who do and/or did (both directions, although certainly not the same percentage, which was not my argument). Melora Waters has a high pitched voice, and so there is a good chance that she had problems in her youth, which is what I said and I still maintain as my claim.

P.S. It's hard for me to take this debate seriously with you, Jacqui, when all I can see is you acting out male and female anatomy in a game of celebrities. :)

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