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The Butterfly Effect
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Butterfly Effect is a 2004 sci-fi thriller in which Ashton Kutcher plays a college student who can relive the past and attempt to change it for the better. The movie doesn't shy away from traumatic events and dark subject matter. There are scenes involving child molestation, prison rape, animal cruelty (a dog tied up inside a sack and set on fire and killed), accidental murder, suicide, drug addiction, mental illness, and prostitution. One the characters is beaten to death with a baseball bat. In another scene, one tween kills another tween by stabbing him with a large piece of scrap metal. While serving time in prison, the lead character, on the verge of performing oral sex on two inmates, stabs them both in the groin. It has male and female nudity, talk of sex, and sex acts; a college student tends to walk into his dorm room while his roommate is having sex with his girlfriend. Adults, tweens, and children frequently curse, including "f--k." Homophobic and racial slurs are used. This fearlessness in terms of not shying away from subject matter that is difficult and troubling sometimes overshadows the deeper points the movie is trying to make about "the butterfly effect," "chaos theory," and how events and decisions large and small can play huge roles in determining the kind of people individuals turn out to be.
- Parents say
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What's the story?
In THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT, Evan (Ashton Kutcher) is a tortured soul given to blackouts as a child. Now in college, as his memories begin to return, Evan regrets not having been able to save Kayleigh (Amy Smart), the girl he loved, from her abusive father. He realizes that he can go back in time and change the direction of events, but each time he does he makes things worse. Evan goes back to the moment in which he agreed to take his clothes off for a child porn video made by Kayleigh's father (Eric Stoltz). Instead of saying no or running away or calling the police, 7-year-old Evan's second-chance decision is to explain to Kayleigh's father in the words of his adult persona that her father shouldn't destroy her life. Somehow, this instantly persuades him to stop molesting her. Then college-age Evan, back in the present but of course remembering the original reality, is transformed from cool guy to frat boy, with Kayleigh transformed from suicidal waitress to happy sorority girl. But when 7-year-old Evan showed Kayleigh's father the error of his ways, he forgot about Kayleigh's brother, who now, in scenario number 2, as the recipient of all of the abuse in the family, is over-protective of his sister. Disaster ensues and Evan has to find a way to go back again to try to make things work out better.
Is it any good?
This movie is pretentious. The title comes from the idea, here attributed to "chaos theory," that the flap of a butterfly's wing can produce a typhoon half a world away. It's an irresistibly intriguing notion -- all of us have thought about what would happen if we could go back in time and make a different choice. But this movie's plot lacks imagination, insight, and even believability.
Evan's time travels include an assortment of every possible form of hideous crime and abuse, including animal torture, child molestation, the death of an infant, prison rape, and drug addiction, all unforgivably thrown in for shock value and none with any shred of dramatic legitimacy. And wherever he is, psychology teacher's pet, half-hearted participant in fraternity hazing, confined to prison, or confined to a wheelchair, Kutcher's acting is not up to the challenge of making even a nosebleed believable.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the subject matter of the movie. How did the movie address the many difficult topics it presented?
What does the movie seem to be saying about the role that events, decisions, and circumstances have on shaping the kinds of people we turn out to be? Does the film adequately address the role individuals have in overcoming traumatic situations and taking charge of their own destinies? Why or why not?
This movie seems to garner extreme reactions from viewers. Some really love it, and others really hate it. Why do you think that's the case? What are some other examples of movies that provoke these types of polarizing reactions?
For kids who love science fiction
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.