Monthly Archives: July 2010

The Butterfly Effect [2004] movie review

Originally submitted at Chaos.com

Ashton Kutcher stars in this tale of regret. If you could go back in time and change something, would you? And if you did, what would happen to your present self? Evan faces this exact dilema, when what he thought was a memory disorder turns out to be a power greater than anyone could imagine.

Be careful what you wish for.

By Stephen Symons from Christchurch, New Zealand on 7/20/2010
 
4out of 5

Pros: Entertaining, Thought provoking

Best Uses: At Home, Adult Viewers

Describe Yourself: Movie Buff

There are two opposing theories when it comes to time travel. One theory would have it that time is immutable, that all things are predestined. This theory suggests that if a man went back in time and killed, say, Julius Caesar, or Sir Isaac Newton when they were infants, other Greats would arise to take their place and the march of events would continue with barely a ripple. The other theory states that if a time traveller returning to 5000 BC so much as stood on a butterfly inadvertently, this would cause a chain of events that would disrupt time forever, ensuring, perhaps, that the Roman Empire never existed, or that the Spanish Empire conquered all of North America by 1700 AD.

This is known as the Butterfly Effect. This is the hypothesis that writer-directors Eric Bress and J Mackye Gruber explore in this 2004 tale of spontaneous time travel and its unforeseeable consequences.

Evan [Ashton Kutcher] is running down a corridor. He is wearing hospital pyjamas, and his surroundings have a distinctly institutional look to them, but this is not a regular hospital. There come the sounds of pursuit. He rattles locked doors, desperately trying to open one. At last he finds one which opens and he barricades himself inside. He grabs a pen and paper as he slides underneath a desk, where he starts to write furiously. Is this really the time to write up his diary, we wonder? Whatever is he thinking? The sounds of pursuit near and stop. There is a pounding on the door. They are getting in!

Flashback fourteen years.

Evan is seven years old. His teacher shows his Mother [Melora Walters] a very disturbing picture that Evan has drawn of himself wielding a knife while standing over the bodies of dead children. He remembers nothing about it. Later at home his Mother walks into the kitchen to find him holding a cook’s knife. What is he doing? He does not remember picking it up. A little later again he is playing with his friends Kayleigh and her brother Tommy. Kayleigh’s Father tells them to come into the basement where he has a video camera set up. They are going to be stars in a movie about Robin Hood. In this scene Robin, played by Evan, and Maid Marian, played by Kayleigh, have just got married and they have to get undressed and lay on the bed. Evan wakes up at home much later, remembering nothing, but knowing that something very wrong has happened.

Evan is aware of that there have been mental health problems in the family. His Father, who is in an insane asylum, had similar unexplained memory lapses, as did his Grandfather. A visit to his Father ends in disaster, with his Father trying to kill him, but how it happened Evan cannot remember. He blacked out when his Father came in the room. Is he suffering from the same affliction? Will he, too, end up in an asylum?

Fast forward seven years.

Evan and his friends are now all about fourteen. Playing in Kayleigh’s Father’s basement they find a stick of dynamite in a old can. Together with another friend, Lenny, they decide to play a game with it, putting it in a neighbour’s letter box with a cigarette on the fuse. The four friends run into the trees to watch. A car drives up. Again, Tommy wakes up much later, remembering nothing but knowing something terrible has happened. “You use the excuse of another one of your blackouts,” yells his Mother as she bursts into tears.

No one ever discovers who perpetrated this act of mindless violence, and the four friends never speak of it, but they all change as a result. Tommy becomes more and more violent. Lenny becomes more and more withdrawn. Kayleigh is subject to sudden bouts of weeping. No one will tell Evan what happened when the dynamite exploded, and he becomes more and more bewildered.

Not long afterwards Evan, Kayleigh and Lenny, running through the woods, discover Tommy who has tied the family mutt up in a sack and is pouring petrol over it. There is a fight, and Tommy blacks out. When he comes to the dog is dead, burned to death. It is all too much for Evan’s Mother. She and Evan move away to another town.

Fast forward another seven years.

Evan is at University and doing well in his studies, majoring in psychology with a special emphasis on the science of memory. He is well adjusted, and there have been no more blackouts since he left the old hometown. His Mother is well and they are close. One evening they go out for dinner together, after which, on an impulse, they visit a Fortune-teller. The psychic takes one look at his hand and recoils in horror. “You have no lifeline! You have no soul! You were not meant to be!”

The next evening, returning from a date, Evan and his girlfriend settle into his room. She finds his old journals under the bed and persuades him to read from them, something he has not done since he left the home town. The next thing he knows is back in the cellar with Kayleigh and her Father, ready to take the movie. Then he is back in his University room again and his lady friend is asking if he often blacks out on dates. Evan realises then the incredible truth: he can go back in time. This is not simply a very vivid memory. He is actually there, and able to change things.

Alone once more he tries again, and it works. He can change history. Back in the cellar he confronts Kayleigh’s Father, forcing him to let them go back outside, thus ensuring that the cycle of abuse that will later make her suicidal never begins.

His sojourn in the past lasts only as long as the blackout of that time, then he returns to his own time – but not the one he left. He wakes to find himself in a new reality, where he and an adult Kayleigh [Amy Smart] are together and very much in love, but that evening everything turns sour. Again he goes back in time and changes history, only to make things even worse. Every time he goes back he relives the lost moments and we, the audience, gradually start to fill in the gaps in his memory, and to understand the terrible consequences of the exploding letter box

But each time he goes back in time, he suffers severe neural damage that the experts cannot explain. Just like his Father suffered. And his Grandfather suffered. He sees at last the stark logic implicit in the Fortune-tellers word’s and we see, finally, what he is doing hiding under the desk in the room in the Institute.

The Butterfly Effect is both entertainment itself, a gripping unravelling of layers of truth, and a seedbed for further ideas. Which of us has not from time to time wondered “What if…?” We are always looking back over our shoulders, wise with hindsight, and dreaming of what we might have done if we could but go back, but we never really think through the possible ramifications of what would happen. Changing time changes events, which change peoples’ experiences, and changing experiences changes people. The Butterfly Effect give us a suggestion of what might happen if our wishes came true.

Eric Bress and J Mackye Gruber have done an excellent job in the Butterfly Effect, very successfully setting out a tight and chilling tale of cause and effect with a superb cast of relative unknowns. It goes to show that you do not need an A-list cast to produce a first-rate movie. Definitely one for the home collection.

(legalese)

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How time flies.

It has been three months since I made an entry here, and that is because I have done almost nothing creatively since our weekend away at Kaikoura. While there I got through the first half of Amulet, but got no further. I simply lost all energy. I think that perhaps I am suffering from some sort of intellectual constipation. I need to shake myself down a bit. An intellectual emetic perhaps.

This not to say that I have closed down or that the world of the Calion Islands has passed into limbo. Far from it. Things are percolating below the surface, that I can sense, and I think that perhaps our forthcoming week in Sydney will clear the creative sinuses. A few days in the fleshpots of Oz, or, more to the point, a few days away from here, could be just the tonic  I need.

The trouble is that England is still lurking in the shadows. It simply does not go away so easily, and comes back to haunt me, overwhelming me with despair, sapping what little energy I have. Instead of real stuff I have being doing a lot of cooking, rewriting and re-editting recipes and publishing them on this site. I like cooking a great deal, and I have made a lot of new and interesting dishes over the last couple of months. I have started using new ingredients that I have never used before, things like miso paste and pomegranate molasses, not to mantion Nigella seed and Ethiopian cumin. I have been quite creative, and all recipes need to be rewritten from time to time.

But this is not the real stuff of the literary creativity that I seek. I want to write, but I feel so lethargic. I watch too many DVDs, I think, to the point that I get lost in them and forget Calion. But Calion is not forgotten. It is there, always, just below the surface. I have notes and scribbles – and a basic premise. I shall take this stuff to Potts Point, drink a lot of wine, eat a lot of pizzas and perhaps Edrun shall emerge triumphant.

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