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The Butterfly Effect
Reviewed by Jason Myers and Andrew Kozma, © 2004

Format: Movie
By:   Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber (co-writers, co-directors)
Genre:   Horror/Sci-Fi
Released:   January 23, 2004
Review Date:   January 29, 2004
Audience Rating:   R
RevSF Rating:   8/10 (What Is This?)
Jason Myers: To me, a scary movie is a fun house filled with gore, creepy sound effects, and jump-out-and-scare-ya moments accompanied by jabbing musical stings. A horror movie on the other hand, has a hook, some idea that tears at the tissue of your brain even after you emerge from the theater and squint into the light of reality. And Butterfly Effect has a cruel hook. Your life (yes, you, reading this, I’m talking about you), the life that you tend to think of as permanent, stable, controllable, the set of circumstances that comprise your essential reality, your life, your self, that whole bundle of things you take for granted, is actually resting at the edge of a flimsy spider web of possibility stretching back to the center of the web, a center that begins at your conception, or, quite likely, far before that. That your present, at the edge of that web, is but one point on one strand, one possible destination on an ever-dividing silken hub, split into infinite paths by infinite choices and chances.

Well, suppose you don’t like the way some aspect of your life is going. You think, maybe, if you could go back in time, change just one choice or one mischance, your life would be back on track. If what you’re trying to change happened just yesterday, and you went back in time, you’d probably get the outcome you desired. But suppose the thing you want to change happened years ago. Would it be a good idea to go back? It’s a nice daydream, but if you think too logically about your daydream, it might become a nightmare. The farther back in time you go, the closer to the center of the spider web you get, the more likely it is that your actions to “fix” things will land you on some other strand of the spider web, maybe even on the far side of that web, where the circumstances of your life are far from what you know. You have a different job, different friends, a whole other set of unknown mischances to deal with. Not only could you be somewhere you don’t recognize, but you might also be someone you don’t recognize.

Okay, but it might be worth the risk. Especially if a single event had profoundly negative consequences for the lives of many people. Like the time several years ago when my friend Andrew here got so drunk at a college cast party that he powdered his hair and face with flour, smeared raspberry jelly on his lips, strapped the after-party fruit basket onto his head with a bungee cord, then ran to the center of campus while spanking himself with a bunch of grapes, climbed to the top of the George Washington statue with a kidnapped poodle under one arm like King Kong scaling the Empire State Building, and then, having attained the undivided attention of both a large portion of the student body and the campus police, began singing “Cuanto Le Gusta” from his perch while merrily waving his--

Andrew Kozma: There I must butt in. I have to disagree with you about the overall effect, though I do admit that, yes, it could be seen as a little, well, flamboyant. But let’s move to a subject I’m sure we both agree on: it’s been a long time since a time travel movie worked this well. Well, perhaps not that long . . . . Excluding The Time Machine (which I enjoyed, though it seemed to be in love with its flash), the last good time movie was Frequency.

Jason: Well, that Time Machine remake was pretty weak. I thought that Frequency was pretty good, if a bit vanilla, and not particularly noteworthy. Still, you’re right. To find something that works as well as or better than Butterfly Effect, you’d have to go back nearly a decade to 1995’s 12 Monkeys. But that’s only if you don’t count movies with quasi-time-continuum themes, like Minority Report and Donnie Darko.

Andrew: I bow to your greater knowledge, oh man behind the curtain. For those of you keeping up with the trends, you’ll know it’s hard to create a time travel movie that’s stitched tight as a spaceman’s suit (though I think those are glued, nowadays), but Butterfly Effect generally escapes that trap. Why, you may ask?

Jason: I’m bored. Is it too late to ask Sneezy the Squid to co-write this review with me?

Andrew: Ahem. Why, you may ask? Because the film focuses not on the plot, or the plot devices, or anything purely technical, and instead homes in on honing the characters, and their interrelations, to a samurai edge.

Jason: I wouldn’t go so far as using wakizashi metaphors, but this is a pretty complex film for what is, on the surface, a throwaway January sop to soak up teen filmgoer money. I mean, it’s nearly two hours long. And a good portion of it is spent with the child and teen versions of the characters. When we finally do spend some time with the adult Evan (played by Ashton Kucher), we already have reason to be invested in him. But beyond the characters, there’s something else that makes it easy to forgive any time-travel fallacies in the movie. It’s that Butterfly Effect is a horror movie first, and a time travel movie second.

Andrew: I’ll admit that.

Jason: There’s a sort of relentless nightmare logic to it that keeps you from stepping outside of the film and asking “is this realistic?”.

Andrew: Uh-huh, uh-huh. What held me to this movie was that even though, early on, I figured out the basics of what was going on, it didn’t matter. The meat of the matter was not in the plot but in the characters, the character of Evan and his progression through this nightmare.

Jason: Of course, nothing in Butterfly Effect could compete with the pure mind-stripping terror of watching Andrew impersonate Carmen Miranda with that stupid stupid fruit basket stupidly strapped to his head, doing things to the statue of George Washington that would make a pigeon blush with--

Andrew: Speaking of stupid, why does Evan read aloud in the opening scene? Obviously because voice-overs are stupid (so say movie critics) but isn’t reading what you write as you write it equally so? At that point I didn’t want to reach the res of the in media res since it seemed a hackneyed cliché.

Jason: That whole opening was unnecessary. I think it had less to do with the artistic choice of starting the movie in the middle of things, and more to do with the fact that the film-makers were worried that, if they let the story unfold from the beginning, the Ashton Kutcher fanbase might get confused and restless because he doesn’t appear on-screen for the first twenty-five minutes. I also think that, for a movie that thrives on the unexpected, allowing us to see where Evan is headed puts an annoying safety valve on the movie. You know that the movie won’t end until we’ve seen the opening scene a second time.

Andrew: Look, can I get on with my review? You ARE just here as an observer, you know.

Jason: Do I appear in the form of a hologram that only you can see and hear?

Long pause

Andrew: The strictly filmic elements of the movie were more than professional -- the editing was well done, the sound and music was atmospheric and poignant, and the visual effects were very nice, all without taking momentum away from the film as a whole. The washed-out colors in the prison really make that segment shine, especially compared to the overly bright color scheme of the segment just preceding. And who knew Ashton Kutcher could act?

Jason: I wouldn’t say that Kutcher’s presence necessarily adds a whole lot to the movie, but it’s maybe just as impressive that he doesn’t detract, in spite of the That 70s Show and Punk’d goofy celebrity baggage. He gets the job done. There were one or two parts, though, that seemed unintentionally funny, like near the end when Evan is half-lurching half-sneaking down the hallway like some sort of deranged monkey-child. He kind of reminded me of you, Andrew. You know, that bobble-headed, grin-faced, hair-waving-around wacky marionette Frankenstein shamble you do that’s purposely ridiculous but may also cause you to ruin your chances with whichever willowy cotton-candy-brained cigarette-smoking chick you’re pining after at the moment. Hey, come to think of it . . . Ashton Kucher. A.K. Andrew Kozma. A.K. Coincidence? Or something more?

Andrew: Hey, I thought I told you to stay out of this.

Jason: I’m the Film/DVD editor. You can’t tell me to stay out of this.

Andrew: Oh yeah? Jason, stay out of this.

Jason: Fine, but I’m still putting my name in front of yours in the byline.

Andrew: Okay then. All in all there are only two things that really bother me about the movie. First is the opening quote that the title gets its name from. This is attributed to a guy named Chaos Theory. Strange name, but, well, it’s a strange world. Second is that the movie is really biased against Greek life, both fraternities and sororities, and says that they’re filled with sadistic, empty-headed, rich but shallow . . . well, I guess that doesn’t really bother me. But if you’re in a frat or sorority, then be prepared. And if you’re just a pledge to a fraternity or sorority GO WASH MY CAR AND THEN GO WATCH THIS MOVIE!

Jason: Dude, where’s your car?

Andrew: It was a joke. You know I can’t drive. Not after that tuna incident. Why do you always have to bring up the traumatic memories?

Jason: What are you talking about?

Andrew: Oh yeah, I see. Now you’re going to say, “I don’t remember that.” and then blame it on a blackout. Go ahead. I dare you.

Jason: Anyway, the fraternity thing is illustrative of what I think is the one major weakness in what is otherwise a pretty impressive movie. Complaints other people might have about lazy logic, plot holes, or the acting ticks of Ashton Kuchter . . . all those things, to me at least, were negligible. If they existed, they didn’t take me out of the movie. What did occasionally take me out of the movie, though, were what I saw as serious clichés. Namely, the film’s portrayal of fraternities, prisons and prostitution. I’m aware that clichés are often true, but, fair or not, I couldn’t help feeling that the filmmakers’ conception of fraternities, prisons and prostitution was derived wholly and entirely from movies and television.

Still, like Andrew said, Butterfly Effect is well worth a look. But be careful. Butterfly Effect is genuinely disturbing. It might retroactively poison all those time-travel fantasies you’ve been having since you saw Back to the Future as a kid.

Jason’s Rating: 8 out of 10
Andrew’s Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Having heard rumors that Dude, Where’s My Car is actually a sci-fi movie, RevSF Film/DVD Editor Jason Myers and RevSF contributor Andrew Kozma are ashamed to admit that their knowledge of all things sci-fi is clearly incomplete.

Andrew: What I found really interesting is the way the jumps in time are done, especially in the beginning. It reminded me of Girl, Interrupted and, like that movie, brought me closer to the young Evan immediately. Later the time jumps still hold power because of-

Jason: Uh, Andrew, what are you doing?

Andrew I’m finishing the review.

Jason:: The review’s done. We finished it last week.

Andrew: What do you mean? I don’t remember that. You must have written without me there.

Jason:: Of course you were there. I couldn’t very well write a joint review by myself, could I?

Andrew: Well, sure, you could pretend to be me, writing my responses and making me seem like a gutless moron. But, anyway, it doesn’t matter. The review’s not online, and I had nothing to do with this so-called thing you completed. By yourself, I might add.

Jason: Look. Right here. It’s posted and everything. There’s your byline. I thought it turned out pretty well. And look, we actually got through the whole thing without any spoilers.

Andrew: What do you mean we didn’t include any spoilers?

Jason: Is that a rhetorical question?

Andrew: But we have to include spoilers. Don’t you understand?

Jason: No. It’s too late to change it. It’s written. It’s posted. Live with it.

Andrew: I will not live with the deaths of countless RevSF readers on my conscience, or the maimed ones, no longer able to click a mouse except with their teeth, or those who had to sell themselves to get the true critical insight they needed before AND after watching the film. You may be able to live with yourself, heartless editor, but I’ve seen, oh, I’ve seen, what happens when spoilers are left out. Now I know I didn’t write this review. I care too much. It’s time to fix the madness you created!

Jason: I’d like to see you try.

Andrew: And then I said, “I bow to your greater knowledge, oh man behind the curtain…”


Jason: Well, that Time Machine remake was pretty weak. I thought that Frequency was pretty good, if a bit vanilla, and not particularly noteworthy. Still, you’re right. To find something that works as well as or better than Butterfly Effect, you’d have to go back nearly a decade to 1995’s 12 Monkeys. But that’s only if you don’t count movies with quasi-time-continuum themes, like Minority Report and Donnie Darko.

Andrew: I bow to your greater knowledge, oh man behind the curtain. And maybe now you’ll reveal to us the many spoilers in store.

Jason: Why? Someone wise once said that a good review is one where you can convey a sense of the movie without revealing too much about the plot. Oh, that was me who said that. Hence, no spoilers.

Andrew: Oh, no, we need spoilers. I’ve seen what a review is like without spoilers, and it’s not pretty. Come on, Farkbag!


Andrew: The acting by all the main characters in the film was really good, though Lenny (Elden Henson), bothered me a little. Too much of a transformation at the end? He has a wide variety of character types to play, but him as a long-haired, hip person. Well--

Jason: His acting didn’t bother me. Though I didn’t think of him as hip. I thought of him as a nice guy who made that mistake so many college guys make, thinking that growing their facial hair to look like a beatnik is actually an original way to assert their newly discovered Birkenstock-inspired individuality.

Andrew: There are several time jumps, but the later time jumps still hold power because of the differences from what we’ve seen before, and because progressively more rides on each one. In a way, since Evan is the main character, it’s possible to see his entire experience in the film as the complex workings of grief as he deals with Kayleigh’s death. Because, even at the end, they have become dead to each other.

If you stare too hard at the time travel, you’ll find inconsistencies, such as how some of his blackouts are time loops (kitchen with the knife; visiting his father) which doesn’t quite fit in with the movie’s predominant time-theory (and, also, that the blackouts are caused by trauma, not time-jumping).

Jason: I initially thought that the cause of the blackouts was an inconsistency, but now I’m not so sure. What if the blackouts can be caused by trauma OR by time-jumping? The first three things that he jumps back to are all trauma-caused (the junk yard, the mail box, the basement). Those thing would have existed even if Evan didn’t have the ability to time jump. The blackouts that seem unrelated to trauma (the classroom, the kitchen) are caused by his time jumps. The trauma blackouts precipitate his investigation of his blackouts, which precipitate his time jumps, which in turn precipitate more blackouts. At that point, the normally accepted theoretical closed time-loop stuff takes over (. . . he could time jump because he had a blackout because he could time jump because he had a blackout because he could time jump . . .).

Presumably, Evan also had a blackout when he met Kayleigh at the party (and that blackout has always been there, it’s just that the audience isn’t allowed to see it). The important thing is that, in the God’s eye view of this story, nothing interesting would have happened if Evan didn’t have normal trauma-related blackouts. Thus, even though there are some time loops, the overall story is not a self-generated time loop, and so it does not fall into the chicken-or-the-egg circular-illogic of a lot of time-travel yarns.

Andrew: In terms of continuity there are some very intriguing gaps left for the viewer to work around: when Evan first goes back in time, why is his bed, just before he leaves the present, suddenly unmade, abandoned as if he was never there? What exactly was Evan’s father trying to fix? Was it his messing with time that gave Evan his ability? Who let the directors/writers escape with a non-Hollywood ending?

Jason: What I liked about the ending is that it flirts with the possibility of the Hollywood ending (Evan could have walked up to her and introduced himself) but then deliberately rejects that ending.

Andrew: You tell ‘em, frat dawg.

Jason: Uh, did you just say, “You tell ‘em, frat dawg”? Frat dawg? Frat D-A-W-G? I mean, come on, that’s just embarrassing. I’m afraid I’m going to have to go back in time to the moment before you ruined this review, and kill you. For the good of all mankind. Let’s see . . . and then I said, “What I liked about the ending is that it flirts with”--

Andrew: Wait, hold up. You’re the Film/DVD editor. Couldn’t you change what I just said without tampering with the fabric of space-time?

Jason: Never put off ‘til the present what you can do in the past. And then I said “the possibility of a”--

Andrew: Bastard. And then I said, “I bow to your greater knowledge, oh man behind the curtain.”


Jason Myers and Andrew Kozma never actually wrote this article. Jason Myers died seven years ago while attending the George Washington University. Apparently he was bludgeoned to death with a poodle. Andrew is a thrice-divorced white-surpremicist schizophrenic syphilitic narcoleptic transgendered McDonalds janitor, and a resident of Canada. Of course, logically, you shouldn’t even be reading this review. But, then, we ARE a science fiction website.

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