When we experience trauma in our childhood, there is often a desire to go back and make things right.  Through the help of a pastor or counselor, such a desire is often successfully satisfied as the individual is able to “visit” these memories in therapy and bring healing to the past pain as they face their fears and “change” their “experiences.”  This healing, however, only occurs within the mind and soul of the person in therapy.  The damage that occurred in the lives of others remains unchanged.  The longing to change the entire event and make it right for everyone is the theme of Eric Bress’ and J. Mackye Gruber’s “The Butterfly Effect.”

Placing on the screen the maxim of Chaos Theory, that a typhoon on one side of the world could be caused by something as small as a butterfly’s wings on the other side, the film suggests that the slightest changes in someone’s past could have tremendous implications for their future.  Therefore, to try and return to the past and repair some damage could have unforeseen negative effects along with the positive ones.  This is the experience of both Evan Treborn (Ashton Kutcher) and his father Lenny (Eldon Hensen).

Having been hospitalized for mental illness, it soon becomes clear that Lenny is not mentally ill but can travel back in time through jogging his memory.  His attempts to do so bring so much chaos into his life that he is driven to desperation and hospitalization.

In his absence, Evan’s mother Andrea (Melora Walters) seeks the help of a father in the neighborhood to give Evan a male influence.  What she doesn’t know is that he is an abusive father who uses his own children and Evan to film child pornography.  But Evan’s unusual mental ability allows him to block out this memory.

Discovering that something is wrong through a picture Evan draws in first grade, his mother takes him to a psychologist who suggests that he keep a journal in order to jog his memory.  It is this journal which eventually provides a door into the past as Evan discovers his ability to go back and try to make things right.  What he soon discovers is that such attempts are inherently connected with his future, and the slightest changes back then cause tremendous differences now.

This is often the case with life.  Even small, seemingly insignificant events and behaviors in the lives of children can cause tremendous pain or joy in their future.  As Evan goes from trauma to trauma and tries to stop the abuse, destruction and murder, he finally understands that all are hinged on a simple decision that his young friend, Kayleigh Miller (Amy Smart) made at the age of five.  If he can only change that one decision, he can fix the multiple experiences of sorrow he and others had in their lives.  But it also costs him the love of his life.

Graphic in its language, content and nudity, “The Butterfly Effect” weaves a dark and complex tale not everyone would enjoy.  Yet its message about life and the ramifications that even the smallest decisions can have to profoundly impact our lives is a message worthy of thoughtful consideration.



  1. When Evan discovers that “entering” his “memories” can bring changes to his life and the lives of others, he doesn’t consider the implications of such changes.  If you could go back and change some of the experiences you regret what do you think would be some of the implications on your present – for good and for ill?
  2. When Evan is able to stop the abuse of Kayleigh by her father, it makes a dramatic difference in her life.  Do you believe this would be true – would she change from being a sullen waitress to a beautiful sorority girl?  Why or why not?
  3. The sociopathic nature of Tommy Miller (Jesse James when Tommy is 13) was easily changed when Evan went back and stopped him from killing his dog and from killing the woman and her baby.  Do you believe such a simple change would have actually changed Tommy?  Is the “butterfly effect” over or under estimated in its impact?
  4. In pastoral counseling, we call the experience of going into a memory and healing the abuse or trauma the “healing of memories.”  What danger do you see in such prayers?  What value is also present in healing the effects of the past?



Chaos Theory attempts to explain the fact that complex and unpredictable results can and will occur in systems that are sensitive to their initial conditions.   If a system is chaotic, when you change the initial state of the system by any tiny amount you change it's future significantly.  Chaos arises in a dynamical system if two arbitrarily close starting points diverge exponentially, so that their future behavior is eventually unpredictable. 

Chaos, although appearing random, arises from a very rigid cause and is highly sensitive to any disturbances, because every change in the system will compound over time and predicting the future path of the system is practically impossible. A famous example of this is the Butterfly Effect that states that, in theory, the flutter of a butterfly's wings in China could set off a chain of events and actually effect the weather patterns in the United States.

Posted on June 1, 2011 and filed under 3 STARS, THOUGHT-PROVOKING.