Ashton Kutcher was a name everyone was painfully all too familiar with at one point, with his role as Michael Kelsoon on “That 70’s Show” making him the prime candidate for lowbrow comedies. These usually featured him paired with another goofy actor or a hot girl in a dumbed down romcom, but in 2004 people’s opinion of him changed after appearing in a well praised, low-budget, intensely dark sci-fi film directed by Eric Bress and J. Mackye called “The Butterfly Effect.”
The story follows Evan (Kutcher), a troubled young man who experiences severe black outs associated with psychological traumas he suffered as a child. While reading his old adolescent journals, Evan then discovers that he has the ability to travel back in time to those events documented in his diary, and change history.
Unfortunately, as he attempts to make his life better for himself and his childhood friend Kayleigh (Amy Smart), he soon finds out that altering time leads to some pretty disastrous consequences. I don’t think anyone really was prepared for this movie to be as excruciatingly dark as it was, just like no one was prepared to see Kutcher in a more serious role. The film doesn’t get too tangled in complex time travel rules; it offers a simple device to be utilized and doesn’t conjure grandiose disasters like humanity ending or the moon splitting in half in its ramifications. All of the movie’s problems and mistakes focus squarely on the level of misery Evan experiences from his tampering with time, and the newfound horrors or delights his decisions have on his friends and family.
In The Butterfly Effect, we are focused on a damaged group of people who all suffered traumatic and horrible childhoods, so it’s only natural even the most optimistic of timelines make things dark and dreary for at least someone. The dark tone of the movie subsequently gives it an intense edge that shows a more human and realistic side of how severely time travel can rewrite someone’s life. These feel like real choices a real person would make and, like Evan, we find out the hard way that changing the past doesn’t always mean the future will be better. Kutcher and Smart are excellent in this film. Both have done comedy equally as well, but they really embody the heartache and suffering that Evan’s decisions put them through. I feel for them, I truly feel for them and any drama worth its tears knows that you have to empathize with your characters to feel what they’re going through, and this film does it well.
Overall, “The Butterfly Effect” is a surprisingly powerful film considering its budget size and choice in casting. It’s an age-old sci-fi story that’s been done many times before but never as dark or as humanly in my opinion. It’s believable, relatable and its stars and storytelling bring you into the darkness of their misery with all the right frights and feels. The “Butterfly Effect” is a time travel movie certainly worth experiencing, and I would give it 3 stars out of 4.