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Film / The Butterfly Effect

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This article is about the film. For the "Butterfly Effect" of incremental changes in a complex system having much larger consequences than anticipated, see Butterfly of Doom.

The Butterfly Effect is a 2004 American Science Fiction Psychological 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 Evan Treborn, a guy who can travel back in time by reading his journals and changing 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 unrelated Direct-to-DVD sequels, The Butterfly Effect 2 and The Butterfly Effect 3: Revelations.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abusive Dad: George Miller, who physically abuses his son Tommy and sexually abuses his daughter Kayleigh.
  • 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 apparently seen so far is a delusion that Evan created to cope with the guilt of killing Kayleigh, describing alternate universes with colleges, prisons, and quadruple amputation. Then it turns out that the mental time travel was real when Evan goes back one last time.
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  • All There in the Manual: In the director's cut, which the filmmakers regard to be the "true" version of the movie, Evan's mother has had two stillbirths prior to Evan. When he strangles himself in the womb, it becomes clear – according to Bress and Gruber's commentary, at least – that those two were also time-traveling martyrs. Finally, in the ending montage, his mother is shown with a happy, healthy baby girl, which Bress and Gruber say is a sign that the "curse" is broken, because apparently it only affects boys. Alternately, the baby shown at the end apparently had a different father, who did not pass the time-travel power to this child.
  • Alternate Timeline: Any time Evan tries to alter a past event to get the life he wants results in one of these, each increasingly worse or more bizarre than the previous.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: Lenny's last name, Kagan, is a common surname. No other hints are given.
  • An Aesop: Similar to that of The Time Machine remake, all of the bad futures Evan creates are a result of his efforts to create a future where he and his love interest are together. It's only by scaring Kayleigh at their first meeting, ensuring she never chooses to stay with her abusive father in order to stay close to her best friend, that Evan succeeds in creating a future where everyone is well-adjusted and happy. Sometimes, the kindest thing you can do for someone is to let them go. This all ties into another lesson that we are all the sum of our experiences, so seemingly small changes can make a huge impact over someone's lifetime.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Evan loses his arms in the Alternate Timeline where he prevented the dynamite mailbox prank. This creates the future where he grows up as an amputee, Kayleigh and Lenny end up together romantically, and Tommy ends up as a good-natured friend. Unfortunately, Evan's disabled state also worsened the health of his mother. Realizing that losing his arms led to an unacceptable future, Evan goes back in time once again.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Tommy kills Evan's dog for no other reason than to get back at Evan for getting involved with Kayleigh.
  • 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.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Horribly averted in Kayleigh's junkie prostitute incarnation.
  • Big Bad: George Miller, Tommy and Kayleigh's abusive pedophile father, is directly or indirectly responsible for everything bad that happens to the characters.
  • Big Little Sister: Kayleigh seems to hit puberty better than Tommy ever did.
  • Bittersweet Ending: In 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 then burns his journals to leave his past behind and make sure he doesn't have access to his time travel abilities anymore. Evan runs into Kayleigh in a downtown street in New York, but he ignores her after hesitating for a moment.
    • There are actually two more endings other than the director's cut where things seem even more open-ended. Evan decides to go in the other direction to follow Kayleigh, or they stop to introduce themselves and decide to get some coffee.
  • Blessed with Suck: Sure, Evan can revise the past and try to fix things, but that doesn't mean he succeeds.
  • Blofeld Ploy: Tommy beats the shit out of a random kid in a movie theater after he sees Evan kissing Kayleigh.
  • 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.
  • Bullying a Dragon: The frat-jocks find the hard way that Thumper isn't someone to be messing around with.
  • Bungled Suicide: Evan attempts to kill himself as an amputee by drowning himself in a bathtub, but is so lacking in motor functions that he can't fully submerge himself.
  • Burn Baby Burn: At the end we see Evan burn the time travel journals that caused him and the people around him so much pain.
  • Butterfly of Doom: What the title refers to - Evan making small changes in the past end up much more drastic unforeseen consequences than he'd anticipated.
  • Butterfly of Transformation: The main character keeps trying to change the present by fixing the past.
  • Butt-Monkey: Evan and his friends usually end up suffering in one way or another in many timelines.
  • Call-Back: Tommy smashes Evan's car and leaves a dog collar on it to send a message. This makes Evan remember Tommy's act of killing the dog, and that the altered timeline is still not a good one.
  • Cassandra Truth: In the timeline where Evan accidentally kills Kayleigh using a dropped dynamite, the doctor dismisses Evan's act of mentioning alternate universes with colleges, prisons, and quadruple amputation as delusions created out of guilt. These events are still true from Evan's perspective and he still manages to travel back in time once more.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The blackouts and cases of memory loss in Evan's childhood days, which bother him when he grew up? These were the times when his adult self is taking over his younger body via Mental Time Travel.
  • Clueless Aesop: The filmmakers seem to have gone for an Aesop about the importance of coming to terms with your past, implying that it's inherently misguided to wish for a different life than the one you have. But the story makes it really hard to take that message seriously at times. From what we see of Evan's childhood, the poor kid has every reason to want to change his past, and most of his woes stem from genuinely awful tragedies that easily could have been stopped at the time. Someone really should have protected Tommy and Kayleigh from their abusive father, someone really should have stopped Evan and his friends from playing with deadly explosives, someone really should have gotten Lenny some decent therapy, and someone really should have stopped Tommy from murdering Evan's dog in front of him.
  • Continuing is Painful: The movie takes account of this trope as well, with Evan's condition worsening permanently with each "restart" due to having multiple memories from the previous Alternate Timelines.
  • Crapsack World: Evan's life starts here and gets worse. And worse, and worse, and worse...
  • Creepy Child:
    • Zig-zagged with Tommy. In several timelines, he is a total sociopath, and Evan also describes him as such to George Miller in a certain time travel instance. However, there are also timelines where he's not, there are timelines where he's more creepy than his previous version, and there are timelines where he's more of a creepy adult.
    • Subverted with Evan. His older self mentally occupying his younger body would cause him to act out in very unsettling ways as a child, such as drawing a vicious murder or suddenly appearing close by with a knife in his hand, but he's intentionally acting these out because he wants to rewrite his past for a better future.
  • Crime of Self-Defense: An especially jarring plot point has Evan sent to jail when he accidentally kills Tommy in self-defense. Mind you, everyone knows Tommy is a violent psycho and there were a dozen witnesses to testify that Tommy was trying to kill Evan. This might be because Evan did keep hitting Tommy after he was incapacitated.
  • Cue the Billiard Shot: The college bar scene opens with a pool table shot as Thumper demonstrates his pool prowess to Evan.
  • Deadly Nosebleed: As Evan does more time travel, he starts to have nosebleeds, indicating the brain damage/overload he's suffering from doing it.
  • Deadly Prank: Evan and his friends put a stick of dynamite in someone's mailbox to blow it up. A woman carrying a baby happens to come to check for mail at the worst possible moment, and they're both killed when it detonates.
  • Death Is the Only Option: The director's cut ending invokes this trope. Evan strangles himself with the umbilical cord in his mother's womb to make life better for the people he knew.
  • Deus Angst Machina: This is a movie in which the main character is molested by his friend's father (along with his friends), physically attacked by his insane father who is then beat to death in front of him, accidentally blows up a woman and her baby in a prank gone wrong, has his pet dog burned to death and watches his best friend go insane... within the first half hour.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: In the theatrical ending, Evan realizes the only way for Kayleigh to be happy is to prevent them from ever befriending each other, so that she and Tommy would choose to live far away with their mom instead of their sexually abusive father. Evan runs into Kayleigh in a downtown street in New York, but he ignores her after hesitating for a moment.
  • Doom Magnet: Evan can't catch a break due to every misfortune that happens in his vicinity. All endings roll with Evan sort of having this realization: in the theatrical cut, he decides to nullify having ever known Kayleigh, which completely fixes his life and everyone's around him; in the Director's Cut, he prevents his own birth by strangling himself in his umbilical cord.
  • Downer Ending: The director's cut. Evan realizes that he's the reason why everyone else's lives are so miserable, so he travels back to when he was still in his mother's womb and suffocates himself.
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: In one timeline, Evan gives Lenny a sharp object so he can cut his dog out of the sack Tommy put it in. But after Evan successfully talked Tommy down to make him free the dog on his own accord, Lenny suddenly stabs Tommy from behind.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Kayleigh commits suicide after Evan accidentally made her recall a traumatic event from the past. It's what initially motivates Evan to Set Right What Once Went Wrong.
    • Evan attempts this when he wakes up a quadruple amputee.
    • In the director's cut, Evan does this - while still in the womb, no less.
  • Exact Words: "Here, take this rusty spiky thing. You've got to stop Tommy! Cut the rope!" Too bad Lenny took that to mean Tommy's spinal cord.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change:
    • Kayleigh's hair color 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.
    • Lenny has long hair in all the timelines in which his life turned out halfway decent.
  • Fanservice: In the second timeline where Evan ends up with Kayleigh, Jacqueline Stewart is a student coming out of the showers still wet and showing full frontal nudity.
  • Fat Best Friend:
  • Flat Character: None of the characters besides Evan receives much characterization. There wouldn't really be much point in doing so, given that they each undergo such radical changes in between timelines that they might as well be different characters altogether (for example, Tommy is a violent ex-con in one timeline and a sweet, gentle born-again Christian in another).
    • Thumper gets some characterization in that because Evan most likely never knew Thumper before going to college, so in each scene he appears he's relatively the same. Such as in the "Evan is a frat jock" timeline, Thumper is walking along the hallway and Evan asks Thumper by name what time it is, to see if he's recognized by his roommate in the other timeline, Thumper curses him out and walks off. Thumper dresses similar from scene to scene, stands up for himself when threatened, and seems to be a bit of a Casanova, and when the new timeline is formed where Thumper and Evan's beds are reversed, in one scene he is making love in Evan's bed instead of his own implying he likes that side of the dorm room (which was Thumper's in the establishing dorm room scene before the timeline changes) better than his own.
  • Foreshadowing: You have no life-line. No soul. You were never meant to be. Note that it really works with the director's cut only.
  • For Want of a Nail: The film explores how certain little actions in Evan's childhood drastically affect his adult life, as Evan learns the hard way in his several time travel attempts.
  • From Bad to Worse: Evan endures a lot of pain in just the first half-hour of the movie, which chronicle his childhood and adolescence. Then he starts time-traveling, and things get really bad. In various alternate timelines, he winds up imprisoned for murder and left with no arms, while Kayleigh winds up as a drug-addicted prostitute in one timeline, and Lenny winds up permanently doped up in a psychiatric ward.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking:
    • Evan, Kayleigh, and Tommy smoke in their teen to show that their troubled upbringing have turned them into rebellious teenagers. Keep in mind that they smoke in front of the asthmatic Lenny.
    • In one alternate reality where Evan became quadriplegic, Evan's mother suffers lung cancer after years of chain-smoking.
  • Goth: Thumper. Black spiked hair, pattern ripped black clothing, black lipstick, white face paint, plays the song Dark Entries by Bauhaus while making love to his Goth girlfriend, stands up for himself against a bunch of jocks at a bar who harass him; not much you can dislike about the guy other than using Evan's bed for sex without permission.
  • 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...
  • Groundhog Peggy Sue: Evan can relive his past memories as many times as he likes so long as the relevant journal entries remain intact, which leads him to repeatedly try out different strategies on the same event to see what works best.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Kayleigh in several realities, especially while still a child.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: Tommy, in one reality. Evan manages to convince him not to kill his dog and invoke his Big Brother Instinct... only for Lenny to stab him from behind.
  • Heel–Faith Turn: Tommy became a gentle born-again Christian in an alternate timeline.
  • Heroic BSoD: Lenny has this after the dynamite incident.
  • Heroic Suicide: Evan strangles himself as a fetus in the director's cut.
  • Hollywood Law: Evan wouldn't go to a regular prison, but county lockup, since he hadn't even been tried. The filmmakers knew this; it was cooler filming in a prison, though.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Subverted. Kayleigh is a drug-addicted hooker in another timeline but has become depressed and cynical, rather than holding onto her heart of gold.
  • Impaled Palm: Evan does this to himself using Time Travel 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.
  • Incest Subtext: Tommy made a rather un-brotherly remark towards his sister Kayleigh in one timeline.
  • In Spite of a Nail: Evan goes back in time just to stab his own hands on the teacher's spiky desktop notepad 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 because every single other time Evan changed the past, no one else noticed ANYTHING different on Evan, but that ONE time, his cell mate suddenly notices the "new" scars that should have been there the whole time from his point of view.
  • Instant-Win Condition: Evan repeatedly engages in near-suicidal acts, then rushes back to read his journal, transporting him further back in time, thereby hitting a reset button to his life while the angry fellow prisoners/men in white shirts beat down the doors. We next see him at the same point in his life, everything is restored back to normal.
  • It's a Wonderful Plot: The plot of this film is one of the most famous (and cruelest) 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 lives 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 lives without his damaging influence.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Evan spends the whole movie going back in time to try to end up with the girl, mucking things up more and more, before figuring out that this is the only way to go. In fact, this Aesop is taken to an extreme, as in everyone in the world would be better off without knowing you at all. In an alternate ending, the character figures that out as well, and strangles himself in the womb. God knows why they don't show that one on TV... It's also strongly implied that this alternate ending has happened MANY MANY times before to his mother with previous pregnancies...
  • Kavorka Man: Evan's roommate Thumper, who's seen making out with an array of hot girls despite being an obese guy in goth clothing.
    Evan: I guess charisma and eyeliner go a long way.
  • Kick the Dog: Tommy is willing to suffocate and torch Evan's dog just to show how much he doesn't want Evan to be with Kayleigh.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Tommy, who is a complete sociopath due to his father's cruel treatment. He happily kills Evan's dog and leaves a stick of dynamite in someone's mailbox.
  • Meaningful Name: Evan Treborn = "event reborn", alluding to Evan's and his father's power. His name was originally going to be "Chris Treborn," but the writers feared the wrath of religious groups.
  • Mental Time Travel: Evan and his father can do this.
  • Mind Screw: This film is a sort-of mind screw. Is he traveling through time? Moving across alternate universes and adapting to the memories of the version of himself in the new universe? Is he just nuts and then one day finally gets the help he needs? Is the end really just another delusion? These last two possibilities are subverted in the DVD release alternate ending in which he goes back to when he was in his mother's womb and commits suicide with his own umbilical cord before even being born.
  • Missing Time: Evan loses some perception of time when he uses Mental Time Travel to go back to events in his childhood.
  • My Sister Is Off-Limits!: Tommy's attitude to Evan getting involved with Kayleigh, which leads him to seek revenge by killing Evan's dog in the first timeline and attacking Evan himself in the second.
  • My Skull Runneth Over: Thanks to Mental Time Travel, the hero suffers mental instability, migraines, and institutionalization when the doctors find out "he has four lifetimes' worth of memories in his head".
  • 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 Evan goes back to "fix" something in the past. 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. Tommy was an even bigger sociopath in this timeline because Evan unknowingly decided to tell his father to discipline him more.
  • Nightmare Fuel Coloring Book: Subverted. The picture 7-year old Evan draws (of himself standing over two mutilated prison inmates with a bloody knife in his hand, which he has no recollection of drawing) appears to be an example of this trope, but is in fact an example of something else entirely.
  • Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant: Near the start of the movie, Evan's kindergarten teacher shows his mother a picture which Evan (then 5-years-old) has drawn: It's him standing over two mangled corpses with a bloody knife in his hand. Subverted, because at first it appears that 5-year-old Evan had innocently drawn it, then it's revealed to have been his adult self, with a motive in mind.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished:
    • By convincing George Miller to treat his daughter properly for her bright future, Evan accidentally made a timeline where Tommy became George's outlet for venting his frustration, making Tommy into a worse psychopath when he grows up.
    • By averting the dynamite mailbox prank, Evan loses both of his arms and grows up an amputee. This creates the future where Kayleigh ends up with Lenny, which Evan doesn't accept.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown:
    • Evan killing Tommy in a spree.
    • Also when they were kids, Tommy catches Evan kissing his sister in the movie theater lobby. When Tommy stalks angrily towards them, a douchebag trips him for the hell of it. Tommy gets up, gives Evan a disturbingly sadistic look, and then proceeds to smash the jerk's face with a pole barrier and then pummel him mercilessly with his fists.
  • Not What It Looks Like: Because Evan is still shocked out of joy during his first seemingly successful attempt at creating a happy timeline with Kayleigh, he smiles while observing his nosebleed and new shave. A girl notices what he's doing and jokes that he is glad to have a nosebleed.
  • 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.
  • Once More, with Clarity!: For the first parts of the film, several scenes seemingly skip or suddenly fast forward in time, and are explained as Evan having blackouts or instances of memory loss. When the Time Travel plot kicks in, it's revealed that those blackouts can be attributed to how the adult Evan is taking over his younger body in his attempts at changing history.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Evan's first roommate, "Thumper", is never called anything other than that.
  • Parental Incest: Kayleigh was molested by her father. He molested Tommy instead in another timeline thanks to Evan mucking around with the timeline and not shutting up after getting his point across.
  • Peggy Sue: The film uses a variation on the trope, which also deconstructs the hell out of the concept. Also suffers from serious Fridge Logic, due to the main character's Genre Blindness.
  • Poor Communication Kills: One alternate timeline ends with Lenny stabbing Tommy in the back... which happened in the first place because Evan gave Lenny a sharp object to "cut the rope" and free the dog from Tommy. As it turns out, Lenny didn't properly understand Evan's instructions. The aftermath of this incident is briefly discussed in the timeline's future; Lenny blames Evan for giving him the weapon because the latter knows that something big is about to happen back then, but the others aren't aware of it.
  • Prison Changes People: After one of his trips to the past lands him in prison and another gets him out, Evan is startled by a waitress asking if he'd been in prison. As it turns out, the way he hunched over his food (a defensive technique to keep other prisoners from snatching off his plate) gave him away.
  • Prison Rape: A very brutal example involving Evan and the Aryan Brotherhood. He gives them a Groin Attack, as it was a ploy to get back a journal that he needed to continue his time travels.
  • Psychic Nosebleed: Evan starts to get nosebleeds after he has several blackouts. Each blackout (i.e. each use of his Time Travel ability) causes worse and worse damage to Evan's brain. This is caused by Evan's Ripple Effect-Proof Memory kicking in and the memories being physically written into his brain and co-existing with the older sets. After the first couple of times, Evan fiddles with the past, he gets an MRI and the doctor notes that his brain has all the age-induced scarring of someone twice as old as him.
  • Real Men Love Jesus: Carlos, Evan's religious cellmate. A tattoo of Jesus on his body clues Evan on this trait.
  • Relationship Reset Button: The ending. Evan knows that no matter what he does, his girlfriend will always be miserable if she's with him, so he goes back to his childhood and scares her off. Years later, he crosses her in the street, but of course, she has no idea who he is. In the alternate ending, he went back in time and committed suicide in the womb, causing his own stillbirth, so they would never meet!
  • Ret-Gone: Evan nullifying his own existence in the director's cut.
  • Reunion Vow: Occurs when Evan and Kayleigh are still in adolescence and Kayleigh's family is leaving town. Evan holds up a sign reading, "I'll come back for you." He does several years later, but it doesn't end well... at least in that timeline.
  • Revised Ending: The theatrical release had a bittersweet "things are ok-ish but Evan and Kayleigh never knew each other and pass in the street with only a wistful sense of what might have been" ending. The director's cut has what may well be the only prenatal suicide in film history, as Evan concludes the only way to avoid all the bad things that happen to the people he loves is to not survive birth.
  • Rewriting Reality: Magical writing is combined with Mental Time Travel.
  • Ripple Effect Indicator: Evan's Impaled Palms. When in prison, Evan briefly time-travels back to his grade school classroom to puncture his hands with metal spikes, hoping that the resultant scars will convince his religious cellmate that he has a mystical connection to God. The scars spontaneously appear on Evan's palms—even though, from his perspective, he should have had them all along. Perhaps his cellmate gained Ripple Effect-Proof Memory since he was paying attention to the time travelling process.
  • Ripple Effect-Proof Memory: Memories from the "new" timeline hit Evan in a rush, giving him a nosebleed... caused by brain hemorrhaging.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: Heavily deconstructed. Evan travels back in time to prevent Kayleigh's suicide... but every time he changes the past and creates Alternate Timelines, they mostly end up making things worse for everyone. This occurs repeatedly because what was made right can create another wrong.
  • Set Wrong What Was Once Made Right: In the director's cut ending, Evan decides to go back to when he was a fetus and strangle himself in order to undo the damage he's done.
  • Slow-Motion Pass-By: The theatrical release ended on this between Evan and Kayleigh, having had their memories of each other lost to time travel, having managed to live their lives without being killed or psychologically messed up.
  • Stable Time Loop: Evan has blackouts because of his future time travel. He starts writing his journal because the psychiatrist suggests that it would help him find out the reason of the blackouts. He uses said journal to travel back in time. Other times it's averted because most of his time travels end up changing the timeline.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: At least in the director's cut, Evan and Kayleigh just aren't meant to be together.
  • Starts with a Suicide: The Mental Time Travel plot doesn't really get started until Kayleigh commits suicide, motivating Evan to try to change the past.
  • The Story That Never Was: At the end of the director's cut, Evan decides that the only way he can stop screwing things up with his Mental Time Travel is to jump back to before he was born, and strangle himself in his mother's womb; deleted scenes imply he wasn't even the first of his mother's children to go through this.
  • Suicide for Others' Happiness: One of the endings has Evan go back in time to strangle himself with his own umbilical cord while still in the womb, resulting in a stillbirth. The people Evan cares about, for whose sake he does this, do in fact go on to lead better and happier lives.
  • Tap on the Head: Subverted and played straight:
    • Done quite realistically. Rather than being rendered unconscious, Evan's father is killed instantly.
    • Later, Kayleigh sustains a blow to the side of the head and is knocked out instantly, but awakens less than an hour later no worse for wear, aside from a nasty gash on the side of her face.
  • Teens Are Short: Tommy. He is shorter than his younger sister in their teens.
  • Temporal Suicide: At the end of the director's cut, Evan uses his Mental Time Travel powers to go all the way back to when he was a fetus still in his mother's womb and strangles himself to death with his own umbilical cord so that he couldn't ruin the lives of everyone he would've met. It's also strongly implied Evan's two unborn siblings who were stillborn had the same powers and went through the same thing.
  • Time Is Dangerous: The director's 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 realizes that repeated time travel might ultimately kill him, causing him to intentionally think through what he wants to change before each trip.
  • The Time Traveller's Dilemma: The ending invokes this trope: Evan goes back to the beginning, and ends his lifelong friendship/love (depending on the timeline in question) with Kayleigh before it starts. It works.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball: The events of roughly half of Evan's blackouts are caused by his older self going back to them, while the other half were normal initially, but could be changed by his older self. One blackout even has examples of both. Also, it is established early on that Evan is the only one who has any memory of the old timelines, but at one point, his cellmate Carlos notices a change in the same timeline for no apparent reason.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Evan, after dealing with the thugs in prison.
  • Trauma Conga Line: A brief description of the various horrible things depicted in the course of this film: self-harm, mental illness, child rape, child pornography, domestic child abuse, manslaughter, murder, infanticide, violent animal cruelty, incarceration in a mental hospital, suicide, multiple stillbirths, prison violence, neo-Nazism, white supremacy, prison rape, being stabbed in the genitals, being forced into prostitution, heroin addiction, quadruple amputation, lung cancer. The director's cut even culminates in probably the only example of prenatal suicide in cinematic history. This is a relentless miserable, joyless film, to such a contrived extreme that many critics complained it fell repeatedly into Narm territory.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: "This is the very moment of your reckoning..." George is understandably freaked out by the 7-year-old Evan's deadly serious speech.
  • Unkempt Beauty: Evan's reaction to seeing Kayleigh outside the diner in the first timeline. Especially apparent in this passage from the film's novelization. Sadly, it doesn't end well.
    She looked tired and worn, and she smelled like cheap tobacco and fried grease, but he still found himself enchanted by her. Kayleigh still had the same sheltered beauty she'd had when they were children, and he was drawn straight to it.
  • When She Smiles: Evan has this reaction to Kayleigh in the first alternate reality. He's seen her sad and messed-up so many times that, when he sees her smile, he's convinced he wants to marry her.
  • Where It All Began: Both versions. The original does it well when Evan goes back to the birthday party where he first met the love of his life and gets her to not want to see him again, effectively erasing her from his life, but the director's cut takes it to the ultimate extreme where Evan commits suicide by strangling himself (in utero!)
  • Womb Horror: In the Director's Cut, there's a scene towards the end where Evan strangles himself as a fetus in the womb of his mother so he would never be born to cause harm to the ones he loved. It's rather played for drama than horror though. Watch the scene here.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Evan unintentionally becomes one of these.

Alternative Title(s): Butterfly Effect