The Butterfly Effect is a 2004 American Science FictionPsychological Thriller film starring Ashton Kutcher, Amy Smart, Eric Stoltz, and others, directed and written by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber and distributed by New Line Cinema.It's about a guy who can travel back in time by reading his journals and change what happened then, and uses this ability to try to undo various traumatic events he and his friends suffered as children. Despite his best intentions, the results aren't always good for everyone. What's more, his own brain suffers from trying to 'assimilate' all the new memories from these consequences.The title is a reference to the butterfly effect, which theorizes that a change in something seemingly small and innocuous, such as a flap of a butterfly's wings, may have unexpected larger consequences in the future, such as the path a hurricane will travel.It was followed by two largely unrelatedDirect-to-DVD sequels, 2 and 3: Revelations.
This film provides examples of:
All Just a Dream: Subverted. At one point near the end of the film it looks like the story is gonna go out with a Twist Ending. As Evan's doctor explains that there are no journals, he asserts that everything that we've apparantly seen so far is a delusion that Evan created to cope with the guilt of killing Kayleigh, describing alternate universes with colleges, prisons, and paraplegia. Then it turns out that the mental time travel was real when Evan goes back one last time.
An Aesop: Similar to that of The Time Machine remake; to attempt to undo the mistakes of the past is futile. Sometimes, you just have to accept things the way they are.
Which is broken by his final decision by making sure Kayleigh stays out of his life which makes things all the better for everyone in the end. So yeah,it's more like the aesop get's twisted into "You'll only be ok if you never find true love."
Beard of Sorrow: It's subtle, but there. In the futures that Evan loses Kayleigh in he's always grown out a full beard. When he's still with her in the "frat-boy" future he's shaved it down to a goatee, but it isn't until the very end of the movie, when he's put her being a part of his life behind him that he's clean-shaven.
Bittersweet Ending: The theatrical cut. Evan makes sure that he and Kayleigh never become friends by being mean to her when he travels back in time to their first meeting. Kayleigh and Tommy live a happy life away from their abusive father, and Evan and Lenny remain lifelong friends. Evan runs into Kayleigh in a downtown street in New York, but he ignores her after hesitating for a moment.
Break Her Heart To Save Her: In the theatrical cut Evan finally decides that the best course of action is to go back to where he and Kayleigh first meet and be mean to her, so she never befriends him, moves away with her mother and avoids the sexual abuse by her father which ultimately leads to her suicide.
Blofeld Ploy: Tommy beats the shit out of a random kid in a movie theater after he sees Evan kissing Kayleigh.
Blond Guys Are Evil: Tommy. Even in a reality where he turns out alright, his hair is brown. Lenny also depending on the reality.
Broken Aesop: The lesson that you can't possibly undo all of your past mistakes and that you have to accept them for what they are is broken by both of the endings, as Evan does precisely that by removing himself from Kayleigh's life entirely. The real mistake he had to fix was meeting her in the first place (theatrical cut) or being born at all (director's cut).
Burn Baby Burn: Turns out this is what originally happened with the dynamite. Also the ending. (Although that was hinted at throughout).
Expository Hairstyle Change: Kayley's hair colour changes depending on how happy she is in whatever timeline. It's brown and mousy in the timelines where she's miserable and it's blonde when she's happy. Her hair is blonde at the end.
Foreshadowing: You have no life-line. No soul. You were never meant to be.
Grandfather Paradox: No matter what ending you watch (or what ending you want to prefer), the plot is resolved in a manner that would make it impossible and/or unnecessary for Evan to ever travel back in time and influence past events, which means he never traveled back in time and changed the timeline, which means Evan went back in time and changed the timeline, which means he never traveled back in time, which means he did, which means he never did, which means he did...
In Spite of a Nail: Evan goes back in time just to stab his own hands on the teacher's spiky desk top note-pad in second grade so he can re-live his whole life, land up in the same jail about to be raped by the same prison gang, and prove to his cellmate that he has magical powers in the form of stigmata.
As if the movie wasn't enough of a Mind Screw, every single other time Evan changed the past, no one else noticed ANYTHING different, but that ONE time his cell mate suddenly notices the "new" scars that should have been there the whole time from his PoV.
Incest Subtext: Tommy made a rather un-brotherly remark towards his sister Kayleigh in one timeline.
Impaled Palm: Evan does this to himself, to get stigmata-like scars on his hands as a little kid, as a part of a complex plan to get his religious present-day cellmate to believe him. (Time Travel is involved.)
It's a Wonderful Plot: The plot of this film is one of the most famous (and cruelest) subversions/deconstructions of this trope. The protagonist's life has been really depressing, and all his friends are worse off than before he met them. He uses his Mental Time Travel abilities to correct his past mistakes, but they each end up making things worse for them and/or himself. Accepting that they really are better off without him, he eventually decides that the only way to make them all happy is to remove his presence from their lifes entirely. The director's cut was even worse; in that version he travels back so he dies in his mother's womb, just so his loved ones can live their lifes without his damaging influence.
Next Sunday A.D.: The epilogue takes place eight years in the future, which would be 2010.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Every single goddamn time he goes back to "fix" something. The first time, he seems to get it right and has the perfect life when he gets back to the present. But then he manages to screw it up by murdering his girlfriend's psychotic brother and getting put in prison. Brilliant.
Not Quite The Right Thing: The reason things go downhill. Any time Evan tries to go back and do what seems to be the right thing. Any time.
Parental Incest: Kayleigh was molested by her father. He molested Tommmy instead in another timeline.
Plot Hole: Time travel inconsistencies aside, there's no mention of Evan ever having a trial before being sent to prison after he kills Tommy nor is their any mention about why he didn't plead self-defense when the murder was clearly witnessed as such and could have avoided any kind of stay in jail.
Concerning the second example: it's easy to extrapolate from his mother's visit that he did plead - and is still pleading through his lawyer - precisely that, but the court was unwilling to believe him because a) his force was excessive (was beating Tommy to death strictly necessary when he was already subdued with spray, on the ground?) and b) his girlfriend was the only witness; it's possible she argued against him. She didn't really like him doing that to her brother.
Time Is Dangerous: The directors cut reveals that Evan suffers minor brain damage every time he majorly changes the past, resulting in severe migraines and nosebleeds as he gets the extra memories (often 20 years worth) burnt onto his existing ones. On the other hand, he's Genre Savvy enough to realise that repeated time travel might ultimately kill him, causing him to intentionally think through what he wants to change before each trip.