Dude, where’s my karma?
The Butterfly Effect succeeds with an engaging ‘pop-sci-fi flow’
In his youth, Evan Treborn (Ashton Kutcher) was plagued by a handful of blackouts, episodes in which he had no recollection of the traumatic events that transpired. Now on a collegiate hot track involving a pet theory of his, the budding young scholar is impelled to return to the scene of these events to try to circumvent his suppressions. This is not a good idea, as it sets into motion the first occurrence of the titular theory, which is, essentially, that every action causes a reaction. Here it culminates in the suicide of a childhood friend. In a life of successive traumas, this one is finally the catalyst for the awakening of a genetic talent, the same “talent” that resulted in his father’s being institutionalized to his dying day.
By reviewing prompters (in this case, childhood journal entries), Evan is able to insert his current awareness into those past moments of blackouts, giving himself an opportunity to make mature responses in those moments of crisis. Unfortunately, trying to play God results in progressively more extreme alternate realities unfolding. How this all plays out is based on the fact that as we meet the adult Evan he is damaged goods, weak-willed and self-absorbed. Can he break free and actually attain that Hollywood rarity, a character arc? Dude, where’s my karma?
As with any attempt to explore the theme of traveling into the past to manipulate the future, The Butterfly Effect is hampered by implied conundrums. No amount of internal logic can cover for the fact that once Kutcher returns to an earlier point, anything ensuing will not remain the same (as in the unchanging nature of his journals). The only response is to give the mechanics a pass, remain with the dramatics, and to go with the pop-sci-fi flow.
While Kutcher turns in a perfectly adequate job, it is the supporting cast that does the grunt work conveying the alternate personalities. And while The Butterfly Effect is thoroughly engaging (almost a Dawson’s Creek version of Run, Lola, Run), be warned: This is a surprisingly brutal film, with not one primary character (or family pet) remaining unscathed in the ensuing scenarios.