Review- Bully

Kelby in Bully (The Weinstein Company)

Clearly with all the press that Bully had received from its initial rating, to the online animus it caused, to the subsequent edits and marketing campaign; there are many things outside of simply what’s in the film that can be discussed, even as it pertains to filmmaking. However, that doesn’t really apply to the film itself and if further discussion needs having I will post it here. That situation mutated a few times, therefore it’s best I didn’t comment pre-release, and therefore I will proceed.

Similarly, the subject of bullying itself is one I could talk about extensively. I’ve seen from afar, yet closer than most, some of the effects that it can have. How it should be handled can be couched many different ways based on your cultural or political background, however, that’s neither here nor there in this review as this film, like many documentaries are and should be, isn’t about finding a cure for the issue but rather examining the issue. And let’s face it, in spite of increased media coverage of incidents, there are still those in this country who will say there isn’t an issue.

Eseentially, my feeling is that there’s always been an issue, it’s worse and harder to deal with in today’s world, and we as a society have been too slow to act but we need to.

Yet, what of the film Bully? As I stated above, what it does is seek to examine a very broad subject on a closer level by citing several different kinds of examples. In some cases the students in question are living with it on a daily basis, some have confronted the issue, some shy away from confrontation, in some cases we only meet the family as the bullied has since committed suicide. In another, a student reacted harshly and goes through the juvenile justice system. While the film could’ve been slightly more geographically diverse, it does do a good job of going around our vast nation and showing the similar patterns of behavior and administrative inaction and/or ineffectual action.

However, that conclusion is the one I’ve drawn. The film does volunteer the occasional dissenting opinion about the severity of the issue, however, the film never through a narrator or through over-manipulated editing, tries to espouse a dogma. Instead, it allows the subjects to offer their opinions and feelings. On a few occasions, it captures incidents but merely displays them rather than invoking judgment within the narrative. It’s presenting evidence, which we are parsing.

Perhaps the best and most persistent example of this technique is the fact that, wherever possible, the main cause of a student’s being bullied is suppressed or hardly commented upon. For it truly is not the point, and while the film doesn’t actively try to impose an opinion on its audience it’s made from an anti-bullying point of view and there is ample footage and facts to support it. However, anti-bullying can be a secondary and tertiary rallying cry of other activists, therefore to focus it strictly on the issue of bullying by removing the catalyst as much as possible, it examines the phenomena, its impact on its victims and keeps its focus and scope as narrow as possible, which is essential in documentary work.

In keeping with the theme of the film’s scope, there are a number of case studies made within the film but the film is very astute at establishing these personalities and locations such that as cuts are made from narrative to narrative there is minimal reminding we as an audience need of who these people are, where they’re from and what their precise situation is. It’s a credit to the filmmakers because it allows the film to have a sense of flow rather than being segmented case-by-case it traverses the nation over the course of a year and follows an emotional ebb and flow to its conclusion.

What stands out most in that the film is at its most effective when it reveals how these things affect those who love the victimized. Typically, the bullied are resigned to one extent or another or not present. What’s most revealing is the collateral damage caused in the families examined.

The fact that some people searched for a solution in this film just shows that they acknowledge that there’s an issue and they’re desperate for there to be an answer for this generation’s sake, and for those to come. However, while this film is zeitgeist to some it still has to contend with a faction who dismiss the notion and it as propaganda. I think the film very strongly and steadfastly makes its case that there is, in fact, an issue and that it must be addressed and it will continue to be an issue until serious actions are taken and policies are adhered to. The film is a heartbreaking necessity, both in its making and its need for an audience. It’s a film that should be seen by all and I hope it has a long life.