“I have a better ending in mind.”
What makes a film frightening? Is it a monster or sudden noises? Those can get the adrenaline flowing. But to really get people, you have to go for their minds. Black Butterfly seeks to create a story that pulls us in with the mind games being played out on screen.
The film is set in rural Colorado where some women have gone missing over the last few years. Paul Lopez (Antonio Bandaras) is a writer with a severe case of writer’s block. It’s been some time since he’s written anything of import and is trying to salvage his career with a screenplay. But nothing is coming. When he is rescued from a belligerent truck driver at a café by a drifter named Jack (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), Paul offers Jack a ride and then a place to stay the night. Jack offers to make some repairs. Soon Jack insinuates himself into Paul’s life and work. A cat-and-mouse game ensues which could well end in violence.
These two strangers are soon in a battle of the minds. Is one of them the killer who has been victimizing the area? What will that mean for Paul’s realtor Laura (Piper Perabo)? And what of Paul’s absent wife? Was she one of the victims? As the plot plays out there are twists that keep us wondering who these two really are and what violence will it all lead to? (There is one final twist at the very end that I found totally unnecessary, and soured me a bit on the film.)
Psychological thrillers like Black Butterfly sometimes make me think of the Calvinist idea of total depravity, in that it seems everyone operates out of a human nature that is fundamentally evil. Of course, there can be plot twists so that we discover that one of the parties is actually working for the good. But in the process we may wonder if indeed our natures actually do skew toward evil. If not, what can lead people to do such things to other people?
It also raises the question of how we may quickly assume someone is the villain in a story, and then have that assumption called into question. Of course, films like this are designed to lead us in various ways. They twist our early thoughts and even our secondary thoughts until we aren’t sure what we should believe. How does that play out in real life? Often we take those early impressions and are never willing to look beyond that to discover that it may have been mistaken. Perhaps the people we think are doing wrong are in fact victims or are struggling to bring something good into a bad situation. Are we willing to allow our early assumptions about others to be challenged so that we have a chance to have our minds changed?
Photos Courtesy of Lionsgate Premiere