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March 14, 2013

Movie Review: Bully (2012, Blu-ray/DVD)

Movie review by Greg Goodsell

Directed by Lee Hirsch

There is one salient reason this reviewer cannot recommend this documentary under any circumstances.

Working over 11 years in radio news, there is one short and unspoken rule in reporting: never, EVER report a suicide, unless the person in question is a public figure. Why? Because whenever it is reported that someone has taken their own life, it inspires others to do the same.

Hard to believe? It isn’t. As drastic and irreversible as suicide may seem, there is something in the human psyche that finds it imminently appealing. No waiting for the Grim Reaper’s scythe to fall: take a handful of pills and control your own destiny. Whenever a celebrity is reported to have ended his life – paging Kurt Cobain, that figure’s many followers follow in a lemming-like plunge off the cliff. This is especially true in the young and very young, not well versed in the ways of the world. “I’m not going to be able to drive until I’m 17 … the girl I like in math class called me a doodie head … my nose is too big and my acne is too severe – where is dad’s Saturday Night Special?” 

That’s why all the media coverage surrounding teenage suicides related to bullying – as well as this film, good intentions and all, may actually have contributed to the unnecessary deaths of young people, who in their naive, desperate act said “I’m going to show them!” While these victims must ultimately accept their own decisions for their actions, in this reviewer’s opinion, news reports such as these have never exactly been helpful.

Now: For the movie at hand: Bully follows five American families in small southern towns who have children that have suffered harassment at school. Two families have lost their sons to suicide as a result of bullying; a family with an androgynous lesbian daughter must deal with small town homophobia; a single mom anxiously awaits the fate of her 14-year-old daughter after she waved a loaded gun on a school bus; and the main child, born prematurely and with malformed features, picked on because he is “different.”

Having suffered abuse at the hands of my fellow classmates, I certainly can relate to the film’s subject matter. Also briefly teaching middle-school aged students, I can also understand how hamstrung and short-handed instructors can be with disciplinary problems. The teacher is under pressure to bring their students up to speed and doesn’t have the time to correct problems that are directly related to the child’s environment.

It is here that Bully is the most revealing. While striving to be objective, the home from whence an 11-year-old boy took his own life with a gun is shown to be one where even the bed comforters are made out of camouflage. His two gun enthusiast parents attend his funeral in their hunting outfits and every available wall space holds a shelf for rifles. As for the girl who brought a loaded pistol on to her school bus, her loving single mother is first heard exclaiming after the incident, “What do you mean she took MY gun?”

Bully tries to find a villain to assign blame. When two harried parents tell a  school principal that their son is being physically abused on the school bus, she glibly retorts, “I’ve ridden that bus line many times before and the children there are all as good as gold!’ One is tempted to shout back at the screen, “That’s because you’re riding on it, BITCH!”

One major thing that Bully conspicuously fails to do is in fact, examine the child who is a Bully. Generally, children who pick on other children are very insecure and are trying to cover up their own perceived inferiorities; if these bullies can get their like-minded peers to join in the harassment, so much the better. The film doesn’t address this part of the equation. What I didn’t like hearing repeatedly when I was being put upon by fellow students that it was all somehow my fault. Towards the end of the film, when we see huge rallies attended by school kids to honoring their fellow students who took their lives on account of bullying, it’s fair to assume that many of them were former tormentors who had an abrupt change of heart. The next day, they’ll just get on the bus and start picking on someone new.

The DVD/Blu-Ray includes “The Bully Project at Work” featurette, “Communities in Motion” feature and Deleted Scenes and much more. But as I have stated previously, this reviewer cannot recommend this film under any circumstances for the reasons outlined in the opening paragraphs.

End of sermon. Back to work. 

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