The Butterfly Effect
Many films over the years have attempted to deal with the subject of time-travel. Some have been more successful than others. Back to the Future warranted two sequels. Last year’s The Time Machine, by contrast, just deserved a warrant for arrest. The lesson, perhaps? That the subject is simply one that can’t be taken too seriously. Fail to direct with your cinematic tongue in cheek, and you will incur the disdain of the moviegoing public.
The Butterfly Effect takes its premise seriously. And surprisingly, it’s a very serious film—both artistically and philosophically.
The first major surprise is Ashton Kutcher himself. How does a supposed television lightweight like Kutcher unearth, develop and satisfyingly star in such substantial material? How does he assemble a team of such obviously talented, gifted and passionate filmmakers?
Few films are as well-cast and well-acted as The Butterfly Effect. Three generations of actors are called upon to convincingly play several different versions of themselves—and we not only buy that these children, adolescents and adults could actually be the same characters, we also buy the changes that Evan’s dabbling in the past produces in their characters’ fundamental underlying natures. Lenny is convincing as both catatonic and gregarious; Tommy’s sadist is as disturbing as his born-again believer is compassionate; and so-and-so’s multiple Kayleighs are simply a revelation.
Are these performances really to be found in a summer teen movie?
It’s also a surprise that Effect also deals matter-of-factly with the issue of religious faith. Even in high-profile movies that deal with the issue of playing God, like The Truman Show (or even Bruce Almighty), characters don’t actually do what real people of faith do. They don’t go to church, they don’t pray. If they have faith, it’s not a faith that actually guides their actions. Effect’s transformed Tommy, however, behaves like a real campus evangelical activist: he’s earnest, passionate and concerned. He’s neither a Saved!-style caricature nor a preachy hero. He simply is what he is.
But the major surprise is the pragmatic self-determinism that the film’s director presents, a bleak vision that’s reminiscent of an earlier generation of filmmakers. It’s foolish to think, the film says, that if we could somehow go back and change the mistakes that we (or others) have made that the present would somehow be “better.” It would only be different. Better to be absorbed in working out our salvation in the here in now than in agonizing over the past, or the earth-shattering down-stream effects of seemingly insignificant actions. Because even if you could go down that path, you’d find that the only way to save the things that you love would be to give them up entirely.
It’s a vision that’s evocative of the sacrifice that Christ made in giving up His position in Heaven to walk the earth and die on the cross as a man. But make no mistake—The Butterfly Effect doesn’t find salvation “out there.” Kayleigh’s salvation only comes through the literally desperate (if selfless) actions of a man who has no idea what the future—or the past—really holds.