Evan Treborn, tormented by a dark childhood trauma, finds a way to go back and change one decision from that childhood. His attempts, though, may leave this worse for his friends and himself than they were in the first place. If you could change your past, would you? Would it matter?
The butterfly effect is the dependence of all things upon all other things. In chaos theory, the metaphor is that the flapping of a distant butterfly’s wings helps set the path of a coming hurricane. This film uses that theory as a nightmarish backdrop to re-imagine “It’s A Wonderful Life”. Evan (Ashton Kutcher) is able to go back and change the past, but with each attempt, those around him suffer far worse than they did in the first place. Each time, a different friend or loved one seems to suffer so that the others can be saved from their own past (future?) demons. The cycle repeats, with each minor change creating an entirely new and terrible reality until Evan is left with only one choice to save all of those he cares about – if he can just make one final trip into his past.
Kutcher does a superb job in a role which, to be frank, I wouldn’t have envisioned him being able to carry. He sheds his goofball persona and really becomes the heart, soul and pain of the film. His circle of friends are all solid as well, highlighted by Amy Smart, who does a great job of playing effectively completely different characters in some iterations of Evan’s realities. Some may find fault with the lack of an explanation as to “how” Evan is able to go back in time – the explanation is flimsy to point of being useless – but that misses the point: this film is a study in humanity and in the repercussions of our actions. This is the story of whether one man really can change the world and whether he should try. It’s not about the plausibility of time travel.
For those who can appreciate this film for what it is, it’s a deep and meaningful story. It’s dark to the point that it’s hard to call it entertaining, but it will make you think and – perhaps most importantly and all too often missing from films today – it will make you feel.