The Butterfly Effect
Evan is a young boy who suffers from blackouts which appear to be associated with moments of stress in his life. Perhaps this is not surprising given his troubled childhood – his father is held in a mental institution, and he lives with his single mother and a pet dog. His mother is loving and tries her best to bring him up and look after him. When she is shown a grizzly drawing Evan drew but couldn’t remember anything about, she takes him to see a doctor for a brain scan (a poignant point given his father’s mental condition). The doctor recommends that Evan keeps a journal to help him develop his memory. Ewan is diligent in this, and keeps his journals under his bed.
He is friends with Lenny, and also with Kayleigh with whom he has a soft spot. Evan and Lenny tolerate Kayleigh’s brother Tommy who shows signs of violence, even at an early age. As Evan grows up, he continues to get involved in a number of incidents with his friends, usually lead by Tommy, which lead into various forms of trouble. His blackouts continue, and often seem suspiciously strategic, absolving him of any responsibility in these events. Frustrated, his mother takes him out of his home town, and we see Evan showing Kayleigh a handwritten note through the car window which reads “I’ll be back for you”.
The movie slides to Ewan’s life as a college student, where we learn that he’s had no blackouts for 7 years. He comes back to his dorm after a night celebrating with a date who finds his journals under his bed and asks him to read one. He finds a section just before he blacked out, and on reading it finds himself back as a young child in the time of the blackout he has been reading about. He realises that he is reliving moments in his past and attempts to change them for the better.
The first part of the film seems slow to start off, and is naturally focused on Evan’s difficult childhood with its gritty details. Be warned that some of this is quite disturbing owing to the subject material. At this stage it would be easy to think of this movie as a psychological drama, but things start to get interesting from a science fiction / time travel viewpoint when Evan grows up and stops having his blackouts. This is when he discovers how to go back in time to the moments of his blackouts to try to change things for the better – whilst he’s blacked out as a child, he’s reliving the moment as an adult.
The matching between the present and the past is crafted beautifully, providing the viewer with information and insights which were naturally missing the first time round.
As a viewer I really felt for Evan – it is easy to share in his confusion when the repercussions of actions in the past filter through time and affect his present. I was particularly touched in that Evan strives to make things better for his friends and family, rather than for his own gain. This is made most clear when he tries to help his mother, and ultimately in the ending of the movie. In differing versions of his present, Evan loses friends and girlfriends, and towards the end, physically more.
The basic idea of going to the past to deliberately alter the future but suffering unforeseen consequences is certainly not original, but I thought that The Butterfly Effect applied it in an interesting…and perhaps more realistic…way than an other ‘easier’ film would have handled.
Despite the slow start, I really enjoyed this movie, and what I found to be missing at the start in terms of content was easily made up for when revisiting it through Evan’s eyes the second time round.
Reading a journal (and in one case, watching a home movie) to travel back in time is perhaps a little similar to reliving a memory, but in this case, it’s more literal. No attempt was made to explain how this method worked, but this added to the sense of Ewan’s confusion when it happened, as well as its lack of credibility when he tries to explain it to others. Fundamentally, the time travel element is treated as black box, and is a vehicle where the viewer is invited to climb aboard and share in the mystery surrounding it. The movie touched slightly on the idea that Evan’s time travelling ability was hereditary and was passed down to him from his father.
I have read that there is an alternate ending available on DVD which reinforces this interesting idea – realising that there is no way for the past to be improved and that he himself is a cause of much of the suffering in the altered timelines, Evan kills himself in his mother’s womb, thus preventing himself from from being born. Evan’s mother refers to her earlier miscarriages, leading to the idea that he had brothers and sisters with the same time travelling ability and who had also reached the same conclusion. These suicides echo Evan’s father’s harrowing attempt to murder Evan.