The universe is chaotic. The time-space continuum in which we reside is infinitely dynamic. So infinitely dynamic that close consideration of the topic I’m about to discuss has been known to short circuit the human brain.
What the hell am I talking about? I’m talking about the immeasurable amount of random stuff that goes on around us and how it quietly and inexorably shapes our lives. This massive randomness of which I speak is one of the laws of the universe and we are enslaved to it. One of the corollaries of this law of immeasurable randomness is the familiar concept of sensitive dependence on initial conditions, better known as the “butterfly effect.”
The name “butterfly effect” comes from the idea that a single flap of a butterfly’s wings can create imperceptible changes in the atmosphere which can later have important consequences, such as the creation of a monsoon, or the alteration of a hurricane’s trajectory. The initial condition is the butterfly’s flap, and the dependent event is the destruction of six towns in Guatamala by Hurricane Willemena.
We hear people discuss the butterfly effect on an almost daily basis. We’ve all heard someone’s story about how they would have been at the site of a disaster had they slept 10 minutes longer on a particular day (“my Aunt Edna would have been on that bus that crashed if my uncle Sidney hadn’t kept her on the phone so long that morning.”) When a tournament-changing hand occurs immediately after a misdeal, poker players love to speculate on how the hand in question would have turned out differently had the dealer not inadvertently dealt a single card face-up.
These are only some very obvious examples of the butterfly effect. It is omnipresent and usually more subtle, and you can have fun (or drive yourself crazy) thinking of the possible ways it has altered your life. If you had never applied to the college you went to at the last minute, you would never have met your wife and might now be married to someone else. If the mailman hadn’t mistakenly delivered Modern Taxidermy to your childhood home one fateful day, you’d have a different profession in your adult life. If the Jets had won the AFC Championship game in 1998, you would have traveled to the Super Bowl in Miami and been out of town on the day you discovered a bag filled with $3 million in unmarked bills on the corner of Houston and Eldridge. And if your father’s penis was a millimeter longer, a different sperm would have fertilized that egg inside your mother, and you would never have existed.
The thing about the butterfly effect (and chaos theory generally) that I personally find most fascinating is that it’s unbearable. What I mean by this is that humans struggle with it or even refuse engage it. That’s because the human brain is hardwired to detect patterns in everything. We see patterns where they simply do not exist. The concept of cause and effect comforts us in a very real way, and we are happiest when the world around us is predictable, so we try to predict everything. As someone famous once sang, we’re just “trying to make some sense of it all.” This is why casinos put those electronic tote boards on roulette wheels. It’s also why astrology and religion exist. Interesting stuff.
None of this is really the point of this blog entry. The point of this blog entry is to tell you that I have just viewed a movie called “The Butterfly Effect,” (2004) which stars Ashton Kutcher and Amy Smart. What a movie.
Evan (Kutcher) and Kayleigh (Smart) are two college-aged kids who together suffer through an unbelievably horrible childhood peppered with brutally traumatic experiences, including their joint molestation by Kayleigh’s father, the death of a neighbor and her and infant child at their hands, and the murder of a dog by Kayleigh’s evil older brother Tommy (William Lee Scott). Oh, and lest I forget, Evan also witnesses the death of his institutionalized lunatic father.
Possibly because of his tendency to suppress scarring memories, Evan leaves his bullshit childhood (and Kayleigh) behind and manages to become a remarkably well-adjusted and happy young man. But then one day whilst perusing his old journal entries, the memory of his molestation comes slightly into focus and begins to bother him. Evan decides to visit Kayleigh, who is struggling along as a white trash waitress in their hometown, to find out more about it. Big mistake. Although their chemistry is evident and they seem to be falling in love, Kayleigh is so traumatized by Evan’s insistent discussion of the events surrounding their childhood diddling that she kills herself. Oops.
As he grieves, Evan discovers he has inherited his lunatic father’s ability to travel back in time. What follows is just like Back to the Future, except instead of a DeLorean, the time traveling mechanism is a journal. Beyond that minor difference, it’s just like Back to the Future. If Back to the Future was grim, poorly acted and generally atrocious.
Moving on. Evan manages to reverse Kayleigh’s suicide by traveling back to childhood and preventing the diddling, except he doesn’t account for that darned butterfly effect! Now Tommy ends up receiving the brunt of the nasty father’s abuse and turns out even more psycho than before. As an adult, he attempts to murder Evan, whose tinkering has altered his grown-up persona from a nerdy funky guy to a frat boy (huh?) and Evan kills Tommy in self defense. Prison is not good to Evan. He encounters some white supremacists, and they beat the living shit out of him and make him their bitch. Oops!
Evan now alters the shitty prison ending by traveling back in time again, this time to save his dog. He manages to accomplish this, but in the process he causes their schlubby little friend Lenny (Elden Henson) to kill Tommy. This doesn’t help Kayleigh out at all, and we end up with a dead Tommy, an institutionalized Lenny, and Kayleigh as a prostitute. Ooops! Stupid butterfly effect.
That disastrous scenario just won’t do, so Evan goes back in time again, this time to the point where the neighbor gets murdered. Evan manages to save the neighbor and her baby, but in the process gets his limbs blown off (lolz). As an adult, he ends up in a wheelchair with no arms or legs, and Lenny is in a loving relationship with Kayleigh. Evan’s mother is so traumatized by her son’s condition that she takes up smoking and contracts lung cancer. We last see limbless Evan flapping around on the floor whilst his classmates point and laugh. Ooooops!
Again, Evan goes back in time, this time in search of his limbs. Childhood Evan accidentally kills Kayleigh, which is not definitely not good. This lands him in a mental ward. He has turned out the same way his misunderstood lunatic father did. That fucking buttefly!
Evan’s frantic final trip back in time is to the womb, where he ends up stillborn and turns out to never exist. This ending is ideal, as the movie itself can also be accurately described as stillborn. To those wondering whether I actually watched this piece of garbage, rest assured: the stillborn ending is the director’s cut, only available on the DVD, which I did purchase.
The moral of The Butterfly Effect–if there is one–seems to be that we should not mess with life’s chaos and leave well enough alone. The world works in mysterious random ways, and we should not stress our little brains trying to conquor the chaos that surrounds us. Assuming that alternate realities would be improvements may be a fallacy.
If you’ve managed to make it this far, you may be wondering why in the hell I have written this worthless blog entry. The answer is that it’s my punishment for inadvertently cheating in my fantasy football league last year. The player I acquired by cheating at the beginning of last year (whose name happens to be Lee Evans) stunk all season, and when I protested that my team would have been better without him, I was pointed in the direction of The Butterfly Effect. I find it both suspicious and a little bit sad that a certain owner in my fantasy league immediately recognized the relevance of a downright terrible Ashton Kutcher vehicle, but I have now done my penance.
In closing, and having watched the aforementioned cinematic masterpiece, I hereby wish to make an admission. Had I not kept Lee Evans, a greater evil may have replaced the lesser evil I was saddled with. We’ll never know and there’s no way of figuring it out. I’m no longer going to compound my transgression by making the classic human error of trying to detect a pattern when there’s only chaos.
At least I’ve still got my limbs.