Despite receiving scathing reviews upon release, The Butterfly Effect has become a bit of a cult classic in recent years, as the people who like it really like it. While it’s certainly an ambitious film and Ashton Kutcher proves to be an adept dramatic actor, the story is still filled to the brim with plot holes and inconsistencies.
But, then again, such is what you get with time travel stories. They’re insanely tricky to pull off, and, more often than not, they simply leave the viewer scratching their heads in utter confusion. As we’re doing here. These are ten things that make no sense about The Butterfly Effect.
10 How Does It All Work?
One of the most important questions you have to ask yourself in any time travel story is… well, how does it work? In this case, we mean that quite literally how does it work? The first time Evan travels back in time, he’s reading his journal while entertaining a college girl. He simply reads from his journal and… goes back.
So, how exactly does that work? We know this a fantasy time travel, and we’re supposed to just go with it, but “just go with it” does not often make for a satisfying narrative element. We don’t want to “just go with it.” We want to know how reading a journal sends you back in time, darn it!
9 The Infamous Prison Sequence
This is easily the most famous plot hole in the movie, so we’re just going to get it out of the way early. In order to prove his time traveling capabilities to his prison bunkmate, Evan decides to travel back in time and impale the palms of his hands. Weird way to go about it, but okay.
He then returns to the present and shows the scars his bunkmate, who proceeds to act totally flabbergasted. But this isn’t how the time travel in the movie works. Evan would have already had those scars on his palms! Sorry, movie, but you just broke your own internal logic with that one…
8 How Was The Whole Hand Piercing Not A Bigger Deal?
Early in the film, we watch as Evan’s school teacher tells his mother about a drawing he doesn’t remember drawing. Supposedly, this is the same teacher that personally witnessed Evan impale his own hands. And it’s not like it was an accident, either; he intentionally called her name to get her attention and proceeded to impale himself with a smug look on his face.
So, the teacher decided to tell his mom that he doesn’t remember drawing but decides to forgo the whole “your son impaled his own hands” thing? Just a little detail she decided to gloss over, we suppose…
7 Why Did He Draw?
Man, there is just so much wrong with this scene, it’s ridiculous. So, we know Evan’s blackouts are when future Evan inhabits his mind, and we know that child Evan doesn’t remember making the drawing. That means that future Evan was in his mind at the time. OK. But the only reason he goes back to that day is to impale his hands.
So, why did he fart around making weird drawings when he could have just gone over to the spikes? It seems like a major waste of time to us, but, then again, maybe Evan just really likes drawing and needed some time away from prison!
6 Why Are His Hands Unhurt?
Yep, we’re still on this scene. What can we say, it makes absolutely no sense. So, Evan goes back in time, creates the drawing, and impales his hands. However, Evan’s hands remain unhurt for the majority of the movie, but his mother and teacher still see the drawing he made.
If they both inhabit the same timeline, shouldn’t that mean that Evan’s hands should have been scarred throughout the whole movie? Also, if he only scarred his hands during the prison timeline, how was the drawing made in the first place? He needs to be in prison for the drawing to have been made, so surely he would have the scars as well… because he’s in the prison timeline. Where he scars his hands. And now our heads hurt.
5 How Does Evan Even Remember Things?
As the story progresses, Evan’s mental health begins to deteriorate, as his brain cannot comprehend all the alternate realities that he has been creating.
But, why is this a problem in the first place? The movie clearly states that once something is altered, it permanently changes the future. This is why Evan cannot go back in time to show a prisoner his new scars—in that timeline, he already has the scars. So, why can Evan remember past timelines? Shouldn’t him changing said timeline eliminate that timeline from ever existing, and therefore causing Evan to forget it? Our brains hurt just as much as Evan’s.
4 What Exactly Are The Blackouts?
This movie is just a mess when it comes to consistency and its own internal logic. In some cases, Evan’s blackouts are treated just like normal blackouts. This is seemingly proven by the fact that nothing changes in these timelines. However, other blackouts are caused by Evan going back in time and altering something.
So, what are the blackouts when nothing changes? Just normal blackouts? If so, why didn’t the movie address that? Was it Evan going back to the past but forgetting to actually change anything? No one really knows because the movie doesn’t bother explaining it to us.
3 Do His Actions Not Affect The Outside World?
The whole concept of the butterfly effect is that one simple decision can alter the course of human history. Or, at least, have a large impact. But, in the case of this movie’s logic, the butterfly effect only seems to affect people within your social sphere and absolutely no one else.
Every single time Evan goes back, his actions bring about change in his immediate family and acquaintances, but the world around him remains largely unchanged. Scratch that—not changed at all. You’re telling us that not one of Evan’s decisions expanded outside of his social circle? That is a weak butterfly effect!
2 Why Is Evan In Prison?
Alright, back to the prison sequence—although it’s not what you think. After killing Tommy, Evan is immediately sent to prison. However, his mother states that they are waiting on a self-defense plea, and, as far we know, Evan never had a trial. He was just immediately thrown into prison.
Only, that’s not at all how the justice and prison system works. Evan should have been in jail (not the same thing as prison, despite the misconceptions), not a federal penitentiary. We suppose prison makes for a more compelling story than county lockup, but still…
1 Why Is Evan Continually Surprised At His Present?
This one sort of goes with the whole “how does Evan remember past timelines” plot hole. Every time Evan wakes up from traveling back in time, he is surprised to find a new aspect of himself. For example, he is left utterly bewildered that he has no arms in one timeline. This is fine, as we’d be bewildered too if we just woke up without arms. But, in the timeline he created, Evan was caught in the explosion. So, shouldn’t present Evan know that he has no arms? After all, that’s the timeline present Evan is now living in. And that’s just one example! Time travel can be really confusing if it’s not done well!