The Butterfly Effect
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A Note Regarding Spoilers

The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for The Butterfly Effect can be found here.

No. The Butterfly Effect is based on a script by the movie's directors, Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber.

It is explained at the start of the movie that the Butterfly Effect is a tenet of Chaos Theory, which says that even the smallest of occurrences, such as the flutter of a butterfly's wings, can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world. This means that every action you take, and every choice you make, has a consequence; With every action, there is an equal and opposite occurring reaction. What you say and what you do may and will have an effect on someone else, what that person then says and does will have an effect on another person, and that person and another and yet another after that. No matter how small, meaningless or innocuous, what we say and do will always affect someone else, whether intended or adversely, ultimately causing "ripples" that may extend to a far greater proportion of those effected than intended.

The first time Evan (Ashton Kutcher) had a flashback, he was sitting with a girl and suddenly found himself back in the junkyard. When this happened, Evan didn't realize yet that he could change the past. He was just a spectator in the flashback, and everything happened just like the first time around. There are more instances of Evan doing a flashback that does not lead to large changes in the future, again indicating the unpredictable nature of the 'butterfly effect' (or chaos theory). Not every (small) change sets in motion a series of events that leads to a totally different outcome.

Evan could only relive the events that happened to him during his blackouts. Let's say that he blacked out for 30 seconds as a child. When he reads his journal as an adult, he returns to the time of the blackout, giving him only the 30 seconds to make a different decision. One could say that technically, Evan did not travel back in time, only his (adult) mind would go back for a short period. His consciousness would return back to the moment in time where it left off, and the memories of before that time would retroactively be changed according to the new timeline.

When the doctor told Evan that his father was always looking for a photo album that didn't exist, Evan realized that he could use different sources to go to the past. He used a home movie of the birthday party and of his birth in order to return to those points in time. The ability to time travel was not because of the words in his journal but because of something in his brain, passed on to him by his father. The blackouts, as we then learn, were not the cause of his ability to time-travel, it's the other way around: the time-traveling was the cause of the blackouts. In other words, the blackouts were not mere "openings" in time that Evan could travel back to. He could actually return to any period in his past, provided that he had any means of focusing on that particular time, through a text, picture or video. His mind would travel back, his adult consciousness would replace his child mind, and leave a 'blackout'. Evan described these blackouts in his diaries, and reading them caused him to return to the moment of the blackout. So ironically, the blackouts caused themselves to occur, a phenomenon which is known as a time paradox.

Not directly. Every time that Evan jumps back into time and changes something, his history is 're-written', and when that happens, his brain undergoes instant structural changes to accommodate the new memories. His brain has to cope with years of memories that are crammed into his mind all at once, which can be compared to the weariness experienced after a night of intense learning for an exam, multiplied by a thousand or so. Additionally, Evan retains the old memories, so after several time jumps, his mind is packing more than 40 years worth of memories, while his brain is only in its twenties. So the time jumps themselves are actually wearing his brain out, and not the ability to time travel per se. His father had done the same thing, which is what caused the brain damage and mental instability in him as well.

Yes. However, which ending is the alternate ending depends on which ending(s) you've already seen. Here are short summaries of the possible endings:

Theatrical Ending: Evan travels back to the birthday party where he first meets Kayleigh (Sarah Widdows) and whispers to her "I hate you and if you ever come near me again I'll kill you and your whole damn family." Kayleigh runs away crying. After a montage of his memories disintegrating, Evan returns to present day in the dorm room with Lenny (Elden Henson), and the two of them burn all of Evan's journals. Eight years pass. One day, Evan and Kayleigh (Amy Smart) are walking down a street, going in opposite directions. When they pass each other, they seem to recognize each other for a second but keep walking away.

Alternate Ending 1 (on the DVD): Same as Theatrical Ending, only Evan turns and follows Kayleigh. Sometimes referred to as "the stalker ending".

Alternate Ending 2: Same as Alternate Ending 1 only Evan and Kayleigh talk to each other.

Directors Cut (also on the DVD): The Director's Cut has several restored scenes. In one of them, Evan and his mom go to a palm reader, who tells Evan that he has no life line and that he was never supposed to be born, which upsets his mom. She goes outside to smoke a cigarette and tells Evan that she had two stillborn children before she had him. There is also a scene in which Evan finds an old hospital record, which indicates that his dad and paternal grandfather also suffered from blackouts and had the same special ability. This means the trait is genetically passed on from the father to all male children. At the end, while Evan has barricaded himself in the office, he starts playing a home movie his father made just as his mother was giving birth to him. Evan travels back into his mother's womb and strangles himself with the umbilical cord. The future is instantly rewritten: with Evan removed from the timeline, everyone seems to be leading a normal life. His mother is heard saying that she had THREE stillborns (him probably being the third), and she is seen with a different husband and a healthy newborn child (implied to be a girl from the floral dress she's wearing; due to the new father, the genetic trait is no longer being passed down); Kayleigh and Tommy go on to live with their mother and stepfather, Lenny grows up normally, Kayleigh marries happily with another man, while Tommy graduates and mentions the 'sacrifices made by parents for their children' (which echoes Evan's ultimate sacrifice). Said to be the original ending but, because it did poorly with the screening audience, the theatrical ending was chosen for cinema release.

The Director's Cut has furthermore some additional scenes extending the storytelling. It runs more than 6 minutes longer than the theatrical release. A detailed comparison between both versions can be found here.

There are over 700 movies in the IMDb that feature time travel, some going into the future and others, like The Butterfly Effect, jumping into the past. One of the movies recommended by viewers of The Butterfly Effect that involves time travel into the past is Somewhere in Time (1980), in which a playwrite uses self-hypnosis to jump back to 1912 in order to find a famous stage actress with whom he has become obsessed. Another recommended movie is Jacob's Ladder (1990), in which a Vietnam vet awakens in his future but is haunted by flashbacks into his past. The House in the Square (1951) tells the story of a man who is transported by a lightning strike back to 1784 London. In the Back to the Future movies, Marty McFly jumps back and forth between past, present, and future. In the first Back to the Future (1985), he jumps back 30 years in time and almost prevents his own parents from meeting, falling in love, and getting married. In Back to the Future Part II (1989), Marty jumps to the future and learns that he must go back to 1955 to rectify the damage he caused on the first visit. Finally in Back to the Future Part III (1990), Marty jumps all the way back to the 1885 Old West in order to save his friend Doc Brown. Groundhog Day (1993) is about a weatherman reliving the events of his last Groundhog Day coverage over and over again. While confined by a tight straitjacket in a morgue drawer as part of his psychiatric therapy, a wounded veteran of the war in Iraq travels into his own future in The Jacket (2005). In H.G. Wells' classic of all classic time-travel movies, The Time Machine (1960) and its remake, The Time Machine (2002), a scientist jumps into the far future to find that the human race has divided into two races -- the gentle Eloi and the cannibalistic Morlocks. A classic and highly regarded time travel movie is Twelve Monkeys (1995), in which the world is infected with a virus, and a convict has to travel back through time in order to obtain a pure sample of this virus. A lesser known but nonetheless interesting time travel movie is Retroactive (1997), in which a traveling woman unwillingly gets involved in a time-travel experiment and ends up reliving the previous hours during which she has to prevent a murder and several other disasters. Like in The Butterfly Effect, this movie deals with someone doing flashbacks, in which small changes in the past produce largely different outcomes in the future. More recently, there is Donnie Darko (2001), in which a mentally-disturbed teenager is given the chance to change events in recent history, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), which features the erasure of memories and the re-creating of a romantic relationship. Finally, Edge of Tomorrow features a soldier who dies on the battlefield, and then finds himself back one day earlier, alive and well. He discovers that he returns to that same moment each and every time when he dies, and learns to make use this to win the war.

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