Classification: Personal Alternate Reality
In The Butterfly Effect we follow the life of Evan Treborn, a kid – later a teenager – with an unusual condition. Occasionally when Evan is highly stressed, he blacks out for several minutes. What this means is that he has no memory of what has happened in these periods. But it’s not as if Evan falls in a coma: during these minutes, Evan does and says things – he just has no recollection of what it is he did.
When Evan grows up, he begins suspecting these are repressed memories, and he tries to deal with the emotional scarring by reading his childhood diaries. To his amazement, after reading one specific entry that mentioned a blackout, he finds himself back in time – precisely during the blackout period he has just read about. Even more shocking is the discovery that the actions he makes in the past have can change history: and this has the potential of propagating through time and eventually affecting the present.
As Evan later trains himself, by focusing while reading his diaries, he is able to travel to those moments he blacked out as a kid, and make different choices – returning to a world often very different from what he left. This is actually far more dangerous than it sounds: often these moments of high stress (where he blacked out) were pivotal moments in Evan’s life, so a tiny change can have an enormous effect on his entire future [which is precisely the meaning of the term 'The Butterfly Effect', by the way].
After becoming comfortable with his new found ability, Evan becomes obsessed with using it for a specific goal: he become determined to save Kayleigh, his childhood sweetheart, from her abusive father. For this he repeatedly journeys back through time.
Unlike many somewhat similar movies (i.e. Back to the Future), The Butterfly Effect is a very dark film. Some even may even say it is scary. During the course of the movie Evan travels multiple times, to various periods in his life. I’m going to give somewhat of a spoiler, so please skip this paragraph if you don’t want to read it. The point is, although Even repeatedly tries saving Kayleigh, he just seems to make things worse. Every attempt results in a worse and worse reality. In one version he’s in prison, in another he’s an amputee. But every situation is different – diverse – creative! This is what makes time travel books and movies so compelling – and The Butterfly Effect does a very good job at this.
Another thing I liked about the Butterfly Effect is that it is filled with mysteries: since we see things from Evan’s perspective, there are many gaps in the plot which are slowly revealed later in the movie. For example, during one of his first blackouts, Evan is playing with his friends, a very peaceful situation. Suddenly, finding himself after a blackout, Evan and all his friends are running away in terror. We know something terrible has happened. But they refuse to discuss this, even years afterwards. What just happened there? This is a pivotal moment in Evan’s life, we later find out. The plot is very well written in this respect, building mysteries gradually and slowly unraveling their secrets in a satisfying way.
Admittedly, when I first heard of The Butterfly Effect I had mixed feelings. The premise sounded superb, but then again, Ashton Kutcher playing a time traveler… I don’t know. But I have to say, Ashton did an admirable job.
An additional criticism is that there are quite a lot of holes in the plot. Although I’m really not a stickler when it comes to movie details (suspension of disbelief is required for watching any fictional movie), here the number of plot holes is rather large. Nonetheless, I can’t say it interfered with my enjoyment. Just keep this in mind.
In summary: A must for a time travel lover. Although the movie didn’t do that well, and I suspect many people would disagree with the high score I gave it, personally, I loved it. I thought it’s a fantastic and worthy addition to the growing collection of time-traveling movies. Highly recommended! Too bad the sequel was quite lame.
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Tags: Alternate reality, Being young again, Butterfly effect, Mystery, Past