Movie Review (and reflections): Bully

Movie Review (and reflections): Bully



I went to the movie all by myself yesterday afternoon – a first for me!

I can’t tell you whether the “f” word was used or implied with a bleep. I can’t tell you how many times the bullies did horrible things to the boy on the bus. I can’t even tell you if what I saw was rated R or PG-13.

What I can tell you is that I will be taking my youth group to see this film. The movie is called Bully. I hope their parents will come with us, not because of the rating but because the parents of one of the boys in the movie had NO IDEA how bad it was until the filmmakers showed them footage. Because the parents of the bullies would have been stunned to see their kids in action – I hope.

I’ve been trying to figure out why The Hunger Games is such a hit with youth, when the premise is so horrifying. I’ve asked myself, are our kids that comfortable with violence that the idea of children being forced to fight for the death is entertainment for them? Or are they that terrified of the future that they see possibilities in the story?

In the middle of “Bully” I began to form a new thought, which was reinforced by the conversation two gentlemen were having with the ushers outside the theater. Our kids are intrigued by The Hunger Games because they don’t trust that the adult world treasures and protects them. The relate to Katniss because she has decided that the only person who can protect her, her little sister, her surrogate little sister and anyone else she decides is deserving of her protection in the arena is herself. The adults are either dead, emotionally checked out, or exploiting her for power and entertainment. I fear that our kids relate to her because they recognize this in their own lives on some level. The bullied children in the film would certainly agree – their parents didn’t know how bad it was, one even blamed their son for not standing up for himself, and put the responsibility for his little sister’s safety on his shoulders as well. The school administrators’ reactions and interventions would be funny if their ineffectiveness wasn’t sickening. The parents of children who killed themselves to escape bullying had no idea their children were in such a terrible position. The girl who fought back nearly went to prison for protecting herself. On and on and on.

It all comes down to community, I believe. Parents and families are isolated by the way we live in the 21st century. The village is not outside our doors anymore. Multiple generations are not living together in community. Isolation reduces empathy. Isolation reduces compassion. Isolation encourages a ‘me first’ outlook.

Of the vast grace God has granted me and my family in this world, our church community is among the most precious. The children and youth at our church have their village within these walls, and the relationships carry outside the doors as well. The young person who called me a few weeks ago when she and her parents were having a blowout. The mom or dad who turns to one of the elders at the coffee hour to talk about what to do about middle school for a very active and bright boy, knowing that the elder raised a similar child successfully. Most of us drive across town to be with our village, and thank God for our ability to do so.

But what about the millions of children, youth, and parents who do not have a such a community?

One of the dads in the movie started a series of vigils during which they honor children who have been lost. He also works to build community among youth hoping that they will not stand by and allow bullying to continue in their own schools. If these children begin there, if they learn empathy and compassion, if they learn to look at their schools as a community, if they begin to give these outcasted children a hand up, they may then to say to their friends, “This kid is one of us, I won’t stand around and watch him being bullied.” If this movie inspires even a few of them to do this, and if the adults in their lives reinforce that message, community will begin to form in schools where it is desperately needed.

The kids in my youth group are more likely to be bystanders and bullies than victims. They are smart, confident, middle to upper class, good looking and healthy – less likely to be outcasts. So in my view that makes it incumbent on them, and on me as their leader and on their parents and our community, to be a part of the solution to problems like bullying, the environment, civil rights, poverty and homelessness . . . all the social justice issues where we as a community focus our energy. After all, “To those to whom much has been given . . .”

Anyway, see the movie!


Christina Clark is the Family Minister at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Denver.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Matthew Green

    Forgive me. This comment has gone on far longer than I intended. I think this hit a chord in my former teacher self.

    While I agree with much you say, I have to admit that I disagree with your perspective on why youth are attracted to media like The Hunger Games. The same could be said for Harry Potter or Twilight. The issue, I don’t think, is that kids feel that they are unprotected or unloved. While that may certainly be true of some people, I think nearly the opposite is actually true more often in this contemporary culture. The rise of helicopter parents suggest that many are overprotective rather than underprotective of their children.

    I think the frequent case is that youth are shielded, directly or indirectly, from anything that may threaten them. As much as we are saturated with messages saying how dangerous things are, violent crime rates have steadily decreased for the last several decades. Not to downplay the trauma and sin that is inherent to bullying, but the fact that this has become a serious issue in the current era suggests that there is now space to consider it, not that it has suddenly arisen. C. S. Lewis describes worse bullying in his era, but it wasn’t considered worthy of much note. In the industrial revolution, children were exposed to things far more dangerous than school bullies, including loss of limbs or life. Our American world is far safer than it ever has been.

    But I think that’s the very issue. We’re too safe, in a way. Our youth, while knowing that something out there is amiss (and something internally as well), that sin and evil exist, don’t experience it directly in large measure. Again, certainly kids do experience it as Bully portrays, but many do not significantly. The severity and extent is overall lower than in the past. The result, I think, is a fascination with what they subconsciously know is there, but don’t experience. They’re fascinated by danger and evil. Note also the rise in higher-budget horror films, which are primarily fueled by the 15-25 year old set, and the fact that Halloween has become more and more gruesome and has become the 2nd most profitable time of the year for corporations. Our culture feels so unthreatened that the youth are bored and drawn to something frightening, dangerous, and even evil… but still in a safe way.

    To compound things, we are a youth-obsessed culture. (“40 is the new 30!”) The idea of adulthood is weighted with a sort of burden of unwanted responsibility and limitation. Youth is upheld as the ideal because youth are strong and free and supposedly happy. Why not, then, cast the hero as part of that youth set? Adults have boring lives anyway. There’s little appeal to growing up, so the ideal hero simply will not be grown up.

    On top of that, teenagers are generally seen by the corporate world as the most liquid source of buying power. Note that blockbusters tend to get aimed toward that 15-25 year old set again. If this group is already the ideal age, then casting the hero in that age group compounds the sense of rightness and power that makes them feel both connected to the story and positive about themselves.

    Far be it from me to say that we should not love our children or empathize with them. It just seems to me that we can shield them too much, and they become drawn to the very thing we tried to protect them from because it is so unfamiliar and different and therefore interesting. We must love our children while also allowing them to experience challenges, difficulties, and even suffering sometimes. If they do not experience such things, they will not know how to handle them when they inevitably do arise and can be drawn to them in an unhealthy fashion.

    Forgive me, again, for going on so long and for straying from the topic. I really have gone on too long, but I felt like there’s an important point to consider and discuss in this and just kept on typing.

    Blessings in your ministry.

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