It’s tough to walk into a film knowing it’s going to break your heart, but that said, Bully is a must-see for anyone who has a kid, will have a kid, or currently is a kid. I’m not sure anyone is actually left out of that qualification.
The existence of bullying is not a new phenomenon, as the strong have been picking on the weak ever since the first caveman slapped his smaller neighbor and called him a fag. It’s hard to imagine anyone who hasn’t seen or experienced bullying in their own time at school, and speaking as someone who was a foot shorter than everyone in class (even the girls) for about ten years of school (after skipping a grade), it’s somewhat of a personal issue.
But chances are none of us had it as bad as the poor souls from Bully. It’s hard to tell whether schoolyard bullying has truly escalated in severity over the years, or if because of the internet, we’re now seeing it in daylight for the first time.
The film opens on a sober note, as a tearful father recounts fond memories of his son who recently hung himself after incessant bullying. Soon, we’re transported around the country (well, around the Bible Belt at the very least) to meet a whole collection of kids who are undergoing the same sort of torment.
A ton of bullying takes place on buses apparently. Never rode one myself.
If the film has a hero, it’s Alex. He’s a thirteen year old kid born 14 weeks premature, and suffered a few developmental disorders that have earned him the taunting nickname “fishface” among his peers. He’s relentlessly bullied on the bus every day, and even when the cameras are in clear view of the other kids, we see him hit, stabbed, choked and beaten. It makes you wonder what happened before the film crew showed up.
Then there’s Kelby, a girl who came out as a lesbian in Oklahoma and is transgendered to the point where she looks like a rather handsome young man. Her Sunday School teaching parents had a change of heart about who the good Lord really loves after their own daughter turned out to be gay, but their friends did not. Now no one will even wave to them at the store, and classmates refuse to sit by Kelby at school. Even her teachers torment her for her sexuality, and the school refuses to even acknowledge there’s a problem.
There’s yet another family dealing with suicide, another with a child locked up after bringing a gun onto her bus to end a year of harassment. Story after story of desperate kids and even more desperate parents who simply do not know how to deal with this problem.
There aren’t clear answers given here. Bully takes no stance on what exactly should be done, other than to say that in general, people should “say no to bullying.” Though the types of people who would attend an anti-bullying rally where that message is being taught aren’t usually those causing the problems.
At a bullying meeting where school officials didn’t even bother to show up.
The obvious place to lay blame would be the parents, but for the worst offenders, that’s often a dead end. Kids may bully because they themselves are bullied at home, or at best, parents will take a stance of “boys will be boys” and leave it at that. It’s a position the school often takes as well, as often in the film, administration officials will lament that they can’t police all kids all the time, and they can’t change a student’s mind about their classmates.
There are clear examples of what NOT to do. One assistant principal forces a handshake between a bully and his victim. The victim is reluctant to do so, and while the bully is free to go afterward, the victim gets a lecture about how he’s as bad as the bully for not wanting to shake his hand. “You’re the same as him!” the idiot teacher chides. He responds in tears “I don’t hurt people, I don’t threaten people, I’m not like him.” Well no shit, but it’s an obvious message that isn’t clear to many adults it seems.
The film will certainly unsettle parents or those who are planning on being parents. The hope of the film is that school age children will actually watch it so they can see just how their actions affect their victims. But if a kid needs a movie to tell him that beating a kid up and relentlessly teasing him is going to adversely affect him, there are clearly larger problems roosting that need to be addressed.
That said, awareness in this case is important. While many know bullying exists, many don’t understand the full extent of how ingrained it is in most schools. To see school administrators throw up their hands in defeat is infuriating, and you can see the need for harsher laws on the books when it comes to the well-being of impressionable young kids. When bullying is as bad as we’ve seen in this film, it’s clearly something that will stay with you for life. While I’ve gotten past being called short during my formative years, there are kids who have it much, much worse, and if something isn’t done, they could end up another statistic.
It’s not a fun viewing, but it’s a necessary one for anyone who wants to understand how harsh school life can truly be for ostracized kids. The lack of clear answers may be frustrating, but understanding the problem is the first step toward fixing it.
You don’t really give a “star rating” to a movie like this.
A happy ending for Alex.