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February 3, 2004 > Movie Review: The Butterfly Effect

Movie Review: The Butterfly Effect

Directed By: Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber

by Jeremy Inman

It is difficult to decide exactly how to classify The Butterfly Effect. In many respects, it is a psychological thriller, but it has several aspects of science fiction and a significant amount of dramatic elements. Butterfly marks Ashton Kutcher's first foray into the realm of dramatic acting. Until this film, Kutcher has appeared in only comedies, including Dude, Where's My Car, Just Married, My Boss's Daughter, and television's That 70's Show. Though the only real changes evident in Kutcher's character throughout Butterfly occur by changing the style of his hair, his performance was adequate enough to warrant a second attempt at drama.

In The Butterfly Effect, Kutcher plays a young college student named Evan Treborn. Evan has an unfortunate brain affliction that causes him to black out during moments of extreme stress or anxiety. As a result, Evan's traumatic childhood memory is riddled with blank spots. His only memories of his childhood are stored in note books, a method suggested by his psychiatrist when Evan was six to jog his memory after a black out. A large portion of the movie's opening is dedicated to relating to us Evan's traumatic childhood, as he remembers it. We witness his encounter with his institutionalized psychotic father, the sadistic town bully, and the abusive father of his closest friend, Kayleigh, all interrupted by his black outs.

After about half an hour of introduction, we see Evan in college. His interest in his own past has been rekindled, and as a result he goes back to his home town to figure out what happened during his blackouts. Upon his visit, he finds that Kayleigh is working a dead-end job, her brother the bully has just gotten out of jail, and his old friend Lenny is permanently traumatized after an unfortunate event involving the four of them as kids and a rather large explosive. The audience witnesses the events of Evan's past unfold at the same time Evan does, but his questioning upsets his old friends, and he is unable to discover everything that he blocked out. As a result, he turns to his journals. He discovers that by concentrating hard enough on any one page of the journal, he can transport his consciousness back to the point in time when he originally blacked out and effectively alter the flow of time. Every time Evan travels back in time to repair his present, he comes closer to realizing that it is impossible for him to create one that will match his ideal.

Unfortunately, such an interesting concept is almost wasted in The Butterfly Effect, instead of delving into the science fiction qualities of the film, the directors chose to focus on the resulting drama, which is lackluster at best. While The Butterfly Effect is still original and worthwhile, it squanders most of its potential on underdeveloped dramatic elements.

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