BWW Review: BUTTERFLIES ~ A Powerful And Poignant Anti-Bullying Allegory
Important, because, in the brief span of a gut-wrenchingly intense and spiritually uplifting fourteen minutes, it accomplishes what the alarming and devastating statistics about bullying can only suggest. Its power and relevance lie not only in its ability to transport us into the body of torment and humiliation that a child struggles daily to endure. It ventures a next critical step (and, perhaps, this is the essence of the film's ultimate value) to reveal a pathway to self-actualization and liberation.
As a child, Melanie Holmes is a dreamer and a free spirit, enthralled by her environment, dancing among the flowers, trusting in the inviolability of her friendship with a girl named Paris, and fascinated by the life of the butterfly. Her language is poetic.
Somewhere and somehow, between the halcyon times of her early childhood and the opening days of high school, happiness turns into despair and friendship alters to alienation. Her idealism, intelligence, and her identity (she is biracial) have become, incomprehensibly, a magnet for scorn and persecution.
Ms. Summers's portrayal of the teenage Melanie ~ a distraught and forlorn figure navigating as though among a sea of predators ~ is mesmerizing. Her face is a roadmap of her emotions, her dark eyes windows into the depths of her pain. Borne of her own life experiences, Summers imbues her character with authenticity and passion.
Thanks to A. J. Wilhelm's keen eye, the camera captures every nuance of Melanie's emotional journey and transformation. The film's mood and tension are enhanced by the music of PROM (Ella Zoller and Gabriel Stanley).
Melanie's life is a test of endurance. She absorbs the heckling, teasing and insults of her peers. She's threatened by a bully. She's brought to tears as she's chided for wearing her mother's ethnic earrings and blouse. She suffers the betrayal of Paris (Kristina Reyes). On and on it goes ~ a narrative all too familiar to far too many teens!
Yet, Melanie cannot be overcome.
She finds solace in the arms of her mother (Linda Powell) who has discovered a portfolio of drawings that are a teenager's desperate cry for help. Mom knows that these trials are hard, but she also affirms the injustice of being punished for being smart.
She discovers an invaluable and instructive metaphor for her journey in a science class. While her fellow-students are self-absorbed and languish through Mr. Washington's (Julian Elfer) lectures about the adaptive behavior patterns of the butterfly, Melanie is listening attentively. She seizes on the essence of his lesson ~ that these creatures, like all creatures, are important to our survival, that they have a right to exist, and that they survive because they evolve.
The butterfly becomes Melanie's metaphor!
There is a progression to Melanie's awakening that BUTTERFLIES tracks with awesome precision and sensitivity. It is in the revelatory moments that flow from the anchor of her mother's love and empathy and from the science of life that Melanie finally realizes her innate power. There are indeed lifelines to grab onto. She has the right to exist and to be who she wants to be. Melanie chooses to evolve. She emerges from her cocoon a mighty force.
The enduring message of BUTTERFLIES resonates in Melanie's victorious and inexorable affirmation, "I have the right to exist!"
A remarkable assemblage of talents was recruited to create this vitally important statement, a testament to their commitments to fight the epidemic of bullying.
BUTTERFLIES is currently on the festival circuit. It is a film not to be missed and, certainly, one that should be considered by school administrators and youth organizations as an essential component of their educational toolkit.
Poster credit to BUTTERFLIES Movie