The Butterfly Effect might never be billed as an educational thriller, but it certainly left me with a few things to consider by the time I was done watching. A 2004 American science fiction psychological thriller written and directed by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber, it is a painful, thought-provoking film. Evan Treborn blacks out stressful and traumatic experiences in his childhood, but—while in college—learns that by reading back his journal he is transported to relive these moments. When the love of his life and childhood friend, Kayleigh Miller (Amy Smart), commits suicide, Evan attempts to bring her back to life by reading back his journal and changing his actions during the events leading up to Kayleigh’s death. He realizes that he can change the future during these black out moments, and by doing so, in an attempt to perfect Kayleigh’s life, he creates a series of alternate universes, each one worse than the next.
Ashton Kutcher is fantastic in this film. Having only ever seen him in slap comedy and romantic comedies, I was surprised by his ability to play such a complex role. I have always respected Ashton Kutcher, but this film allowed another, unexpected side of his acting ability. He was able to capture the pain and the disappointment central to this psychological thriller.
The title of the film directly refers, of course, to ‘the butterfly effect’, a popular hypothetical example of chaos theory that illustrates how small initial differences in one’s actions may lead to large unforeseen consequences over time. In the film this concept of demonstrated every time Evan goes back to his childhood: even when he changes just one specific moment that seems insignificant, his entire present reality is different.
This film created such anticipation within me. It was painful to watch, and yet I could not turn it off. I had to know what would happen, how life would change, and how he would react to his new alternative reality. Every time he tried to fix his life, to mend what had happened, he only made it worse. Ultimately, the film questioned whether or not it is best to leave life as it is, to not get involved in the lives of others or even try to change your own life. The ending only created more questions: is it best if love never happens for the sake of our long-term happiness? Or, as John Locke argued in the affirmative, do we we all contribute to our society and affect the lives of the people around us in small, but significant ways?
The Butterfly Effect remains a great film. It made me think about life, and love, and change. It made me realize that there is no wrong, there is no right, and there is no single way to live; the only thing we can do is hope and work towards happiness and perfection. As Evan Treborn told his father in the mental hospital, ‘I’ll send you a postcard when everything is perfect’.
Image Credit: all rights including distribution owned by New Line Cinema