Film: Pay It Forward

Pay It Forward is a 2000 movie based on the novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde, starring Haley Joel Osment, Helen Hunt, Kevin Spacey and, in a minor role, Jon Bon Jovi.

A boy named Trevor is given an assignment to "think of something to change the world, and put it into action". He thinks of "paying it forward", in which you help three people, and tell each of them to "pay it forward", and help three other people. We see the implementation and results of this plan for kindness through the eyes of the people he pays it forward to.

Though well-regarded, the film's ending is generally disliked.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Trevor's father beats his mother, Mr. Simonet's father beat his mother and him (not to mention burning him alive), and Trevor's grandmother is implied to have been this.
  • Achievements in Ignorance: This is the plot as described by the mother:
    "You don't know my son, you tell him he can do something and he's going to believe you."
  • An Aesop: The Central Theme of the movie is that by performing random acts of kindness for complete strangers we are able to change the world for a better.
    • Becomes a Broken Aesop when it turns out that every good deed Trevor does just barely escapes failure. The homeless man relapses into his drug habit; his mother's and Eugene's relationship turns sour not long after Trevor brings them together, and then fails again as her ex-husband comes back.
      • Note: The fact that Trevor's efforts eventually get himself brutally killed are not proof of a Broken Aesop. The underlying idea is not to receive goodness back (which would be paying it back), but to make the world a better place for all. And the publicity around his death actually helped to get the idea spread. And possibly make the bullies change their ways. For more discussion on the topic, visit the WMG page.
  • The Alcoholic: Both of Trevor's parents. As well as his grandmother.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Trevor is senselessly murdered, yet the ceremony implies that he's still left an impact, including that of the audience (see Fridge Brilliance).
  • Can Not Spit It Out: Eugene has huge problems in opening himself up to Arlene. Twice does he start to explain his situation to her but cannot finish the sentence.
  • Casual Car Giveaway: At the start, Chris (the reporter) witnesses a hostage situation at a house. The guy doing the hostage escapes from the house, crashing into Chris' car as he leaves. A guy then gives Chris his car as part of the 'pay it forward' cycle.
  • Chekhov's Knife: The knife smuggled into school by the bullies at the beginning is the one Trevor is being stabbed with at the end.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Eugene's backstory.
  • Death Is Dramatic: Trevor gets stabbed at the end. Cue Slow Motion Fall and then cut to the ER doc telling the the mother he's dead upon which she collapses.
  • Diabolus ex Machina/Sudden Downer Ending: When all seem well and good Trevor decides to stand up to the school bullies and is fatally stabbed as a result.
  • Disney Death: We're led to believe that Jerry the drug addict is dying when Trevor tries to contact him. We see him again much later when he pays it foreward and rescues a suicidal woman.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Trevor.
  • Every Scar Has A Story: Mr. Simonetti explains that his face was disfigured by his father freaking lighting him on fire.
  • Exposition Diagram: Used to explain how "Pay It Forward" works.
  • Gang of Bullies: Two of them.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Played straight with Eugene's facial scars which are not that repulsive, but subverted later when he exposes his badly-scarred chest.
  • Hat-and-Coat Shot: The movie ends on a Flyaway Shot.
  • The Hero Dies: Apparently they Dropped a Bridge on Him.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Trevor dies protecting a kid from some bullies.
  • How We Got Here: The movie starts four month into the story in L.A. and then we rewind to show how the pay-forward movement started in Las Vegas.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted with Trevor's death.
  • Interrupted Suicide / Talking Down the Suicidal: Trevor's first person to receive the "Pay It Forward" treatment stops a woman from jumping off a bridge.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Chris.
  • Jerkass: Trevor's father.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Eugene is always well-meaning,but he starts out as a anti-social jerk who loves using and pushing academic words on others, including kids.
  • Karma Houdini: The two bullies who murder Trevor seem to get no punishment for, you know, murdering him.
    • Though if nothing else their presence at the remembrance ceremony, coupled with the looks on their faces, suggests they're remorseful.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished In this case, it gets you killed!
  • Not Afraid of You Anymore: Trevor's teacher tried to do this to his dad when he was young. To quote a previous role that he played: It didn't work.
  • Pædo Hunt: Trevor is approached by a stranger who attempts to touch him. Trevor's teacher promptly comes in and kicks his ass.
  • Patrick Stewart Speech: Trevor gives one at the end when doing the taped interview.
  • Race Lift: Trevor's teacher was African-American in the book, but played by Kevin Spacey in the film. The role had been offered to Denzel Washington, but he had to decline due to a prior commitment.
  • Reliably Unreliable Guns: Arlene's rifle goes off when she accidentally drops it in the garage.
  • Single Mom Stripper: Trevor's mom is this.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: the film is trying to get an idealistic conclusion with a cynical backstory and an equally cynical ending.
  • Title Drop: On numerious occasions.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Poor Trevor...
  • Visit by Divorced Dad: When Trevor's father shows up. It doesn't work out.
  • Viva Las Vegas: Subverted. We get a glimpse behind the shiny facade of the city.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: At the start of the film, Chris (the reporter) witnesses a hostage situation at a house. The guy doing the hostage escapes from the house, crashing into Chris' car as he leaves. A guy then gives Chris his car as part of the 'pay it forward' cycle. The man responsible for the hostage is never seen or mentioned again.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Played for laughs with the reporter early on, when he is offered a Jaguar for free by a stranger. The reporter is baffled and asks if he perhaps was expected to kill the stranger's wife in return and when this is denied he suspects the Jag to be rigged and blow up in an External Combustion (which of course was not the case).