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Film / Bully

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"I wanna ask you something, Marty... Why do you let Bobby treat you the way he does?"

Bully is a 2001 drama film directed by Larry Clark and adapted from the true crime novel Bully: A True Story of High School Revenge by Jim Schutze. The film is very loosely based upon true events surrounding a man named Bobby Kent, and the group of "friends" around him (all characters in the film carrying the real names of the people involved).

Bobby (Nick Stahl) is a bully, obnoxious at best and sociopathic at worst. He regularly inflicts remorseless physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse on those around him, most of all his so-called best friend Marty (Brad Renfro). After Marty's girlfriend Lisa (Rachel Miner) and her best friend Ali (Bijou Phillips) have a few particularly damaging encounters with him, Lisa decides that enough is enough.

Wanting to free Marty and those around Bobby from his tyranny once and for all, Lisa plots to kill him, and gathers a group of people around their small Florida town willing (however reluctantly) to assist in doing the deed. However, their naiveté and impulsive desires for justice end up creating serious complications for them.

Not to be confused with the 2011 documentary. For the video game also named Bully, which is unrelated to the films, go here. For the character trope, see The Bully.

As this film is based on true events, all spoilers are off. Proceed with caution.

This film provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Bobby begs Marty for mercy during the assault and tries to apologize to him for "whatever [he] did". It doesn't work.
  • Ambiguous Time Period: The murder took place in 1993, though the film was set during the filming period, as made obvious by the cars driven and music videos watched.
  • Armoured Closet Gay: Bobby Kent is intrigued by all things gay and can't have sex with girls unless he's looking away from them, beating them, or watching his homemade gay porn on the nearby TV. He also gets aggressively jealous when girls flirt with Marty. These signs of latent homosexuality combined with his ultra-conservative home life give some explanation as to the angry, sadistic teen he became.
  • Asshole Victim: After everything he did, it's very difficult to feel much sympathy for Bobby when he's killed. However, this is also deconstructed in that the act of deliberately killing even someone as wholly unlikable as Bobby still would be considered a crime, and the teens responsible are booked and sent to prison after they immediately fail to cover up what they did. That is to say nothing of the fact that all of the teens responsible realize that killing a person, no matter how terrible they are, does not feel good.
  • Batter Up!: How the "hitman" finishes Bobby off.
  • Bland-Name Product: A couple of the characters play a Mortal Kombat expy simply referred to as Combat, complete with digitized actors and babalities (dubbed "fatalizings").
  • The Bully: Bobby Kent; it's in the very title of the film.
  • Bully Brutality: Bobby has no problem with breaking Marty's nose, beating him into unconsciousness, and raping two different women for kicks.
  • Bully Hunter: One does have to agree with the characters here, Bobby Kent was a bully after all.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: See Rasputinian Death below.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Bobby has raped both girls and boys, though it's implied that he's actually a closeted homosexual, as he has to look away from the girls when he's doing the deed.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Heather has just left rehab, and while she was growing up, her mother was drawn to drunken abusers. Her mother taught her to read with newspaper clippings about how Heather's grandfather beat her grandmother to death with a hammer and spent two days raping the corpse.
  • The Dog Bites Back: The whole premise is a dark deconstruction. Marty finally gets back at Bobby for his years of abusive behavior and violent actions towards others, gruesomely killing him, but he and the other perpetrators end up getting booked by the law because they still committed an act of premeditated murder. Even though Bobby has done nothing but harm Marty, Marty also still finds himself mentally falling apart at having taken another person's life.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The first time we meet Bobby, he's shown slamming Marty's head against a popcorn machine after the latter spoke to a couple of girls, telling us everything about their relationship.
  • Male Gaze: The camera does its fair share of lingering over the female characters in various states of undress.
  • Morality Pet: As morally wayward as Marty ends up going, his love for his little brother is constant. He's the last person he ends up seeing before the cops take him away from his home.
  • Never My Fault: Donny does not accept any responsibility in the killing of Bobby, despite being an active and willing participant, stabbing Bobby multiple times, and indeed being the first person to attack him. Lisa denies responsibility despite orchestrating the entire plan and pressuring everyone else into going through with it. Heather and Ali deny responsibility despite being willing accomplices with Heather signaling the others to attack and Ali being the bait. Derek denies responsibility despite helping to carry the body into the water. The only people involved who accept responsibility are Marty and the hitman.
  • "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization: A rare instance of a rape's victim instigating this rationale instead of the perpetrator, overlapping with Got Over Rape Instantly to an extent. As part of the plan, Ali calls Bobby to meet up with him and have sex again after he rapes her, and when he asks if she's upset about the rape, she simply says she liked it. It works.
  • Only Sane Man:
    • The "hitman". Even though he's a lying poser, you've got to feel for him when, after the murder, he tries to make the others see what deep shit they're now in and basically tells them to get their stories straight, only for everyone to start freaking out, saying they didn't kill anyone, and denying any culpability in the crime.
    • Lisa's friend Claudia, who has the misfortune of being visited by Lisa after the murder and has to listen to Lisa brag about the crime she orchestrated and witnessed. Lisa tries to gangpress her into taking her to the burial sight so she can see her handiwork again and maybe move it to another location, but Claudia flat-out refuses.
  • Race Lift: The real Bobby Kent was Iranian of Persian descent. The movie makes him a white American.
  • Rape and Revenge: Bobby rapes Lisa and later Ali, which leads both of them to plan revenge against him with their friends.
  • Rape as Drama: Bobby rapes Ali onscreen, and we later find out he raped Lisa in the past, which was their motive for participating in the murder.
  • Rasputinian Death: Bobby is stabbed dozens of times, has his throat slashed, and has his head beaten in with a baseball bat, but he's still kicking when the teens throw him in a river, and it takes drowning for him to die.
  • Scrubbing Off the Trauma: Bobby obsessively washes his hands after any sexual encounter with a female, driving home his closeted homosexuality.
  • Slashed Throat: Marty slashes Bobby's throat during the assault.
  • Spoiler Cover: If you had any speculations on whether or not the main characters would get away with their plan, one of the alternate posters shows them in court in prison getup — lifted straight from the ending.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The very end of the film, which puts Fatboy Slim's "Talking 'Bout My Baby (Reprise)" — containing the happy refrain "Under the big bright yellow sun" — over footage of the kids' lives falling apart, from them arguing in court in front of everyone to the final reveals of their (initial) sentences, as the song is progressively swallowed by reverb to eerie, anxiety-inducing effect.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Bobby was a horrible bully and an unrepentant rapist. Those who took part in his murder are at least debatable.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Nearly every main character. They loudly and repeatedly announce their ridiculous plan to kill Bobby, confess to numerous people after the act, and lack basic knowledge of how the law works. (No, you don't get off after having plotted a murder just because you didn't pull the trigger.) Several characters also agree to help out with the murder despite having never even met the target.
  • Troubled Fetal Position: When Bobby's murder begins, its sheer brutality sends Heather running into one of the cars, where she curls up in the backseat and verges on a panic attack.
  • Villain Protagonist: Bobby Kent is the center of the film's plot and is a sadistic bully who has no redeeming qualities.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Subverted in that Larry Clark initially only showed their initial sentences upon their convictions, omitting the fact that the ringleaders of the plot managed to get their sentences reduced and were already back on the streets, while Marty managed to get his death sentence commuted to life in prison, but this omission was because it either hadn't happened yet or the info wasn't yet public. In the home release, this information is added in a post-script.
  • Who Murdered the Asshole: Bobby's treatment of his associates, especially the two girls he raped, meant that there were any number of people willing to see him dead, even if they got someone else to do the dirty work for them.
  • With Friends Like These...: Bobby is supposed to be Marty's friend, but Marty is the biggest recipient of Bobby's abuse.