When I was in junior high, I really loved Ray Bradbury. One of my favorite Bradbury stories is the classic “A Sound of Thunder.” If you’ve never read it, it’s about a guy in the future who goes on a time traveling dinosaur safari. The company that organizes the trips has carefully timed them so that hunters only shoot dinosaurs moments before they were about to die of natural causes anyway. Everyone takes pictures with their kills and then removes the bullets and leaves the world exactly as they found it so as not to disrupt the space-time continuum. But the story’s hero (or anti-hero, I guess), freaks out and runs off the pre-determined path, and when they return to the present everything has changed because the man trampled a butterfly. It’s a great story, especially when you’re 12. You can read it here.
Or you could spend two hours watching a much worse but arguably even more entertaining (due to insanity) take on chaos theory. I am talking, of course, about the Ashton Kutcher vehicle, The Butterfly Effect.
The Butterfly Effect starts with the youthful experiences of a boy named Evan, who suffers from blackouts. He also suffers from having an almost comically bad childhood. For example, his best friend’s father is a child molester/pornographer, who forces Evan to participate in a movie in his basement. A few years later, he and his friends MURDER a woman and her baby when they put TNT in her mailbox as a prank. Then one of his friends hits him in the face with a two-by-four and sets his dog on fire. You know, kids stuff. Also, his dad is crazy and, on their very first meeting in a psych ward, tries to kill him. Eventually, Evan grows up (now he is Ashton Kutcher) and goes to college where he is a math genius. Right. One night when he is about to fuck some girl he met at the bar, she asks him to read to her from his childhood diary, which is when he discovers that he can time travel. SURE. Later, when a visit to his childhood friend (and unrequited love, and child porno co-star) Kayleigh results in her killing herself, Evan tries to go back in time to fix the problems of the past and save her. He Diary JUMPERs into his childhood body right before the porno shoot and puts an end to it, and when he comes back to the present, not only is Kayleigh alive again, but now Ashton Kutcher is a frat boy! Time travel! But then Kayleigh’s disturbed brother Tommy, who was disturbed and is still disturbed, tries to beat Ashton Kutcher up, Ashton Kutcher ends up MURDERING HIM WITH A BASEBALL BAT AND GOING TO JAIL AND GETTING RAPED. Eventually, Evan goes back in time again and fixes the past so that he’s back in college again, but this time Kayleigh is a heroin addict prostitute. And on and on. Every time he tries to fix the past, things keep getting worse, or if not worse then at least bad in different ways. For example, this way:
Whoops! He Butterfly Effected his arms away! This is even worse than when Gwyneth Paltrow Sliding Doorsed her hair a different color!
I don’t want to SPOIL the ending of the movie for you, but you have had 14,000 years to see it, and it’s one of the most amazing things that I have ever seen. I am posting it here. You been had warned.
Obviously we don’t need to talk about the acting. Criticizing Ashton Kutcher for his acting is like complaining that the food at the Olive Garden isn’t very good. When you walk through those doors, be they Olive Garden doors, or Ashton Kutcher in a dramatic role doors, you should know what to expect. There are, however, plenty of other things to criticize the movie for. For example:
I guess it could be kind of confusing to keep track of all the different Ashton Kutchers. Because sometimes he has a full beard and sometimes he just has a chin beard! That’s Chaos Theory for you. A butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world can forever alter the way Ashton Kutcher shaves! But I think I get it. I don’t really need a prop ham-handedly inserted into every single shot of the movie to remind me of who the main character is. Nevertheless:
Phew. Now I get it. At first I thought this movie was ridiculous and insane, but the necklace keeps me grounded.
But the most important and obvious and ridiculous problem with this movie is its entire premise. Time travel is a real mindfuck, and as soon as you start thinking about it, things get painfully complicated, but if you are going to make a movie about it YOU SHOULD TRY AND THINK ABOUT IT FIRST. Like, OK, every time Ashton Kutcher JUMPERs back to the present, he gets a terrible headache and a nosebleed from all of the new memories cramming their way into his brain. Because, as we know, most brains can only accept 160 gigabytes of information, and that’s IF we use a doubler. But, let’s say that I’m willing to accept that Ashton Kutcher can travel back in time by reading his diary out loud. And let’s say that I’m willing to accept that when he gets back to the present, after changing the past, that he gets a nosebleed and a headache with all of the new memories overwriting the past. What I am not willing to accept is that he carries the new memories along with the old ones. If he has changed the past, then he has also changed the present. Completely. Not just his wardrobe. So when he Diary Jumpers himself out of prison, he should never remember that he even went to prison in the first place, because he didn’t. But in this movie he does. Because this movie is fucking retarded.
Or the fact that whenever Ashton Kutcher changes the path of history, he only changes it in very specific ways that affect three people’s clothing and hairstyle choices, while everything else remains the same, despite the fact that the world is made up of vastly interconnected dependent relationships to which the slightest adjustment of any would bring entirely different worlds into existence. i.e. the whole idea behind the Butterfly Effect in the first place.
Or the even simpler fact that Ashton Kutcher’s character is the type of person who would put TNT in a woman’s mailbox and not say anything as she walked to her own death, or would beat his girlfriend’s brother’s face in with a baseball bat, which ends up making this a movie about honor suicide rather than some kind of star-crossed time travel love story, because what the fuck? Why didn’t he Butterfly Effect himself to before any of this happened and get himself some fucking therapy?
And on and on. Trying to logically think through the complications of time travel gives ME a headache and pretending like this movie makes sense gives me a nosebleed.
All of that being said, I actually highly recommend this movie. If I could Butterfly Effect myself back in time by reading my childhood diaries, if I had childhood diaries, I would correct the mistake of not having seen seen this in the theater. Seriously, just thinking about how many amazing Butterfly Effect jokes I would have made in the intervening years but didn’t because I didn’t know to make them is a tragedy. A tragedy I would happily trade Ashton Kutcher’s arms to correct.