Butterfly Effect 3: Revelations!

Did anyone out there see the movie 12:01? The premise was that The Single Guy (Jonathan Silverman) kept living the same day over and over again. And if that sounds law-suit-similar to the premise of Groundhog Day, the producers of 12:01 thought so, and so they sued.

Ah, the 90s. Back when people still gave a damn about protecting intellectual property.

Where was I?

Oh, right. 12:01. That movie really bugged me. And not just because of the bad PR over the whole lawsuit thing. What bothered me about it was the fact that the Single Guy couldn’t be bothered to go to a little more trouble to save a human life. Right at the end of the movie Silverman’s got it all figured out. He knows what’s causing the loop (The culprit? Science!), his pal has been revealed as the villain behind it all, and all he has to do to break out of the loop is, surprise, surprise, break a machine. Great, right? Nothing wrong with that – except a stupid move on his part got his friendly neighbourhood FBI agent killed earlier in the day.

Now the Single Guy has a dilemma on his hands – break the machine and end the whole thing, or go through the trouble of experiencing the day just one more time in attempt to do it right? Naturally Single Guy picks breaking the machine, because the life of a human being, not to mention the tragedy wrought upon the man’s family, is less important to the character than the inconvenience of living the same day out for the twentieth time. That’s right – it’s not even like Groundhog day and the thirty years Bill Murray spends learning to be a better person – the Single Guy only has to spend something like three weeks going over the same day.

Despicable. So, care to hazard a guess what my problem with ‘The Butterfly Effect 3: Revelations’ was?

It tells the story of Chris Carmack (playing a character whose name I forget), the latest guy to have the ability to jump his consciousness into his body in the past and change things. He’s actually found a clever way to use his powers – the police tell him about recent murders, and he goes to the location where they’re going to happen, then let the cops know who the killer was, and how to prove it. It’s a sweet racket, but there’s one drawback – the rules of his power dictate that any new memories he makes have to share space with the old ones. If he goes back too far, too many times, his superfolded brain will give him an anyeursm. This means that he can’t have much of a life, since he doesn’t want to commit to doing anything that he’ll have to go back and make not happen because a murder came up.

Really the only thing he has time for in his life is to take care of his sister, who’s something of a nervous, chain-smoking wreck. Chris raised her since they were kids, when their parents died in a house fire, trying to open the stuck door to her room, while he miraculously put a ladder up to her window, and used it to save her life. Naturally this was the titular ‘Butterfly Effect’ in action – we’re not watching an original timeline, we’re watching one where Chris went back in time and tried to save his sister, which wound up getting his parents killed.

I’ll skip over the details of the plot, although, and I’d like to give as much credit as possible to the movie’s writer, it’s much cleverer about the limitations and uses of this power than any previous entry in the franchise. The basic idea is that somewhere in Chris’ backstory his girlfriend was murdered, and the wrong guy was convicted, so he tries to go back and find out who really did it, thereby saving him from death row. Things go awry, and this action ends up creating an amazing bagheaded serial killer who murders people with a cordless circular saw.

Fun aside – in that particular murder the gag is supposed to be that baghead cuts off her fingers, and one fliess off, hitting the stereo and turning it on. But close viewing reveals that-

The stereo was already on.

And the finger misses the button. That’s right, I’m nitpicking eight frames of film. So let’s move on-

Into spoiler territory. Which I’m going to offer, for once, because this is actually a film worth seeing if you’re a fan of the ‘Time and Punishment’ genre. If anything I’ve mentioned in this writeup makes you want to see the film, then please stop reading now, as, directly below this paragraph, I’ll be revealing the killer’s identity.

It’s his sister, who can also travel back in time. She’s killing all these people because they’re the women that Chris would have met and gotten into relationships with had they been allowed to live. Yeah, her motive is that she was in love with her brother, which is so incredibly creepy that it seems like a DTV sequel to a terrible Ashton Kutcher movie shouldn’t really have the guts to go there. But it did, and it’s interesting for having done so, especially because it brings up some interesting questions about how the power works.

What if two people using this power simultaneously at different points in time both travel to the same time? How easy is it to do (or undo) something when another time traveller decides to get in your way? That murder depicted above is especially fascinating after the reveal, because once the killer’s identiy and motive are laid bare, the viewer realizes that Chris’ sister had come back from the future to kill that woman in the film’s present.

It sounds like I’m pretty impressed with the film, and I largely was, but there’s a sticking point at the end that really bothered me. You see, Chris decides to go back in time and resolve the sister situation by putting things back to the orginal timeline, where his sister died and his parents lived.

He does this, it seems, because he wants to stop all those people from being murdered. Which is all well and good, but it’s based on a faulty premise: That his sister was some kind of a born-bad incestuous serial killer. Except she’s not. In fact, it’s entirely his fault that she’s killing people.

Chris doesn’t mean it, you see, but he’s a terrible person, at least in the subtextual half of the movie. After the death of their parents he was clearly wracked by guilt, and, as we’re shown by their interactions, he expressed that overwhelming guilt over turning himself and his sister into orphans by being incredibly smothering and overprotective of his sister. Their relationship was so dysfunctional that his sister seems to have fallen in love with him in a sick Stockholm-syndrome sort of way. She was never allowed to interact with anyone else, so she came to believe that his constant guilty attention was the same thing as love – so who can blame her for lashing out when that attention was going to be taken away from her?

This is where we get into 12:01 territory. It’s not like Chris can’t fix the situation a little more effectively. He’s already risking his brain patterns by going to the house fire again, so why not head that far back and save everyone? He’s been back to that moment enough times that he should be able to start ten minutes earlier and get everyone out of the house before the fire got out of hand. What’s the worst that could possibly happen? He finds out, in the present, that his sister is still a murderer in love with him, and has to go back and kill her for good.

But what are the odds of that happening if she’d had a normal life with two parents? Not very likely, since he wouldn’t be screwing up her childhood this time around. And she won’t remember her time as a murderer, since only the mind-jumper who went back and changed the past retains memories of the old continuity. This is why Chris doesn’t know about all of those girlfriends who were murdered before he met them.

So the film tries to sell Chris murdering his sister as something approaching a happy ending, even though it doesn’t make a lot of sense. But then things get worse when, in the film’s last shot, they seem to imply that Chris’ daughter, simply by virtue of having been named after his sister, will turn out to be a crazed murderer as well-

Or hey, who knows? Maybe they were just trying to say that Chris was just as bad a parent to his own kid as he was to his sister.

Oh, and for the record, the movie doesn’t actually have an exclamation point in the title. I just think more movies should.

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