“Bully” (2001, directed by Larry Clark) is a disturbing movie based on the true story of a group of teenage kids who killed their bully. The acting is terrific; it is a pleasure to see such talented youngsters. However, I am not sure to whom I can recommend it. I think it would be great for kids to watch, for it may help them heed the dangers of modern life and learn that there can serious consequences to even the best-intentioned acts. However, there is so much nudity and simulated sex that it is not appropriate for younger teens — perhaps not even for older ones — and certainly not for in-school viewing. I must add that the sex is not meant to titillate (though it might), but to contribute to the story and impact of the film.
Though the title is “Bully”, the movie would have been more appropriately called ‘Victims”, as it more about the actions of the victims and their allies than about the bully. There is little unusual about the “bully” in the story other than the severity of his cruelty, but the movie (and the book it is based on) would not have come into being were it not for the extraordinary actions of the victims. They did what other victims only dream of doing: killing their bully! When you watch the movie, you are likely to find yourself, as I did, rooting for the victims to succeed in their plot. What we so easily ignore is that the worst acts of violence are committed not by people who feel like bullies but by people who feel like victims, for they are full of hatred and desire for revenge. But as long as society wages war against bullies, we will be unwittingly encouraging the kinds of actions perpetrated by victims of bullying, for the kids in the story, we who watch it, and society in general, believe that bullies should be eliminated. As soon as the kids commit their evil act, it hits them what a mistake they made, not because they feel their deed is unjustified, but because they realize they can’t avoid getting caught. As long as we keep on promoting the image of evil bully/virtuous victims, society will fail to significantly reduce violence.
The story takes place in a Florida suburb populated largely by dysfunctional families (in contrast to the rest of us “functionals”) who have sought warm climate and cheap housing. The kids are mostly high-school dropouts who have, at best, low-paying part-time jobs and parents who are abusive and/or have experienced abuse. Though I would like to think that my wife and I have done a better job of parenting than most of the adults in the movie, I could certainly recognize and sympathize with the dilemma of trying to raise responsible, mature children while giving them the freedom to learn to handle life with the intense barrage of sex, violence, and materialism that have imbued modern society.
“Bully” is a complex film that provides lots of food for thought and is worthwhile viewing if you can stomach the sex and violence. In fact, I often find myself thinking about it, and look forward to seeing it again for the nuances and messages I may have missed on the first viewing (and I don’t usually want to see a movie twice).