Early in the movie the title is explained as coming from chaos theory where a butterfly flapping its wings could cause a hurricane somewhere else. The film’s creators need to take a little science fiction history lesson of their own. The term really comes from a classic Ray Bradbury short story titled A Sound of Thunder. In that story some men travel millions of years into the past. One kills a butterfly and when they return to the present they find that this one, small change has created a massive, cumulative change to the future. This movie uses the same concept.
Evan (Ashton Kutcher – who also executive produced) had a history of blackouts when he was a child. He would just wake up not knowing what had happened. They seemed to occur when he was in high stress situations. When he is in college he finds his old journals where he wrote about these things. By accident he finds he can somehow cast his consciousness back in time to those events. His adult self is in his younger body, controlling it. This finally explains the blackouts he had.
Because these are all important events he can’t resist trying to fix the things that went wrong in them, whether it was bombing a mailbox or dealing with a child predator. Unfortunately he finds out that when his consciousness returns to the present, things have changed in ways he didn’t envision. For instance, after one trip he goes from being an outcast to being a member of the cool crowd. Sometimes he gets a huge shock at what has changed about his situation, though. Impacts on Kayleigh (Amy Smart) and Lenny (Elden Henson), friends he has had since childhood, are much greater. I don’t want to describe any of these changes because you should see them as they happen.
He also finds out that his father may have had the same ability. He doesn’t know much about the man, other than that he went insane. Evan begins to have nosebleeds and even possibly brain damage from his repeated attempts to “fix” the past. Each time he tries to make things right, he not only ends up in a situation that may be worse, but he may also be permanently damaging himself. Is this what happened to his father? And what if the biggest negative event in the early years of his friends’ lives was in having him as a friend in the first place? This is where the studio ruined the ending.
Without discussing spoiler details, the original ending is not only daring, but it makes perfect sense. Everything Evan has experienced up to that point leads inescapably to the conclusion that this is the right course of action for him. On the other hand, the tacked on, sort of bittersweet ending of the theatrical version left the entire movie unresolved since Evan has learned nothing from all of his actions. The DVD contains two other, even happier endings than the one that was shown theatrically.
Kutcher carries this movie. While I have never been that impressed with him, this would be the movie that I would pick as the one where he did his best job. Even though he was already a star when this movie was made, its 13 million dollar budget was still relatively small, although it is the largest of any of the films in my Time Travel on a Budget category.
The Butterfly Effect is a dark movie. It deals with various traumas, including childhood ones, in a sometimes unflinching manner. This isn’t done for the shock value, but to show why Evan would continue to drive himself past the point of harm in order to try to prevent these things from happening. If you feel this would be too heavy for you, then you may want to skip this movie. For everyone else, I highly recommend it.
Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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