The Butterfly Effect

Sharon and I watched "The Butterfly Effect" Saturday night. We both enjoyed this thoughtful movie which comprised an interesting narrative with a twist of time-travel. The movie stars Ashton Kutcher, the young actor of Demi Moore notoriety, as the protagonist that has a paternally inherited memory affliction in which he blacks out during times of extreme discomfort, and is unable to recall any memory from these episodes. At the recommendation of his doctor, when he was a child, Kutcher's character relentlessly journals his experiences in hopes that it will help him to come to terms with his affliction. Although he had a somewhat troubled childhood beset with loss and tragedy, he eventually ends up in a college as a top student studying the psychological aspects of memory. After a girlfriend stumbles upon one of his childhood journals, Kutcher's character decides to explore long repressed memories. In an effort to put together the pieces of his fragmented memory, he visits his childhood home to speak with his former best friends. There, he finds that his friends lives are a disaster of depression and insanity. After he returns to college, he finds out that one of the friends that he visited, his former girlfriend, committed suicide after his visit. Perhaps beset by guilt, he combines his unique affliction with his psychological knowledge of memory to use his journals to change the past.

In this interesting and unique version of time-travel, Kutcher's character is able to use his journals to go back in time to a blacked-out episode. Once "inside" the episode, he can use his present knowledge to alter what happened in the past, thus changing the future. After doing this for the first time, he awakens to find himself in bed with his boyhood girlfriend, the same friend that had committed suicide. His college circumstances are quite different, and he seems ill-at-ease with some of them, but he is clearly happy to have his girlfriend alive and in love with him. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes when his girlfriend's deranged brother attacks him, jealous of his relationship with his sister. This sets in motion a series of events in which he decides that he must continually re-enter the past, in repeated efforts to change circumstances. However, each time that he enters the past, he wakes-up in his newly realized present to discover that the changes that he made always seem to have an extreme negative effect upon somebody. The lesson seems to be a loud and clear, "don't mess with the past."

The title of the movie comes from the nickname of Chaos Theory, as articulated by Ian Stewart:

The flapping of a single butterfly's wing today produces a tiny change in the state of the atmosphere. Over a period of time, what the atmosphere actually does diverges from what it would have done. So, in a month's time, a tornado that would have devastated the Indonesian coast doesn't happen. Or maybe one that wasn't going to happen, does. (Ian Stewart, Does God Play Dice? The Mathematics of Chaos, pg. 141)

My interpretation of this theory is that any action we take, however minute, will forever significantly alter the course of the future. For example, I just leaned back in my chair. Had I not performed this action, I might have won the lottery tomorrow. It's heady stuff, but extremely fascinating.

In the movie, Kutcher's character significantly alters the course of all future events, even those seemingly unrelated, when he changes even the conversations that he had in the past. The result is, although he thinks he is performing an action that will lead to a better future than the one he has experienced, he disturbs the course of events in a way that is unpredictable. Thus, "chaos" ensues.


Sharon Jo said…
i too enjoyed the movie. it was confusing when he first started going back into the blackout episodes because you didn't know what was real or what wasn't. but then you figure out that it's all real, it's just that reality changes every time he goes back. thankfully for folks like me who appreciate a happy ending, he finally goes back to the blackout that mattered the most and the changes he makes there allow a better future for all involved. i have a tad bit more respect/like of Ashton Kutcher after viewing this film.
Eric said…
Sharon's comment prompted another thought or two about the movie for me. First of all, the movie loosely reminds me of A Beautiful Mind. This is not because of any story similarity, but because of the thinking that it makes the viewer do about what is reality, and what is perhaps not reality.

Secondly, it is interesting that Sharon notes that it was a happy ending. The character does finally manage to not screw up anyone else's life, but he does so at the tremendous sacrifice of giving up the girl that he loves. Although all seem happy at the end, I think that it is interesting to note this sacrifice. Also, I wonder if he always had all of the memories from the multiple "lives" that he created??
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