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Bully (2012)

April 4, 2012

9/10 Invisible Scars

Makes you proud that this movie exists, makes you appalled at the ugliness that inspired it.

Bully is a documentary that follows a handful of families and teens across America that are, and have been, the target of bullying. It’s as simple and unfortunate as that.

If you’ve ever been to school, you know what it looks like. Maybe you were the bully, maybe you were the victim, maybe you watched it happen, or maybe you tried to break it up. Whatever the part, we’ve all had a role, and for the longest time it was accepted as the norm. Kids will be kids, whatcha gonna do? And then that all started to change. I don’t know if it was Tyler Clementi or one of the many others who decided that death sounded better than another day of torment, but we started treating bullying with the gravity it deserves. But movement or no movement, it seems like there isn’t a month that goes by without a new story of a teenage suicide or teenage shooting spree that wasn’t in some way fueled by bullying.

Needless to say, it was only a matter of time before this movie got made.

Not too long ago, I found myself talking about this movie with my mom and my wife. The more we talked, the conversation found its way to the big question: “Were you ever bullied in school?” When I think about my days as a student, my memories are always fond. I’ve always considered myself lucky in that respect. I probably could have done better on the grades, but I had a great social life, great friends, and I prided myself on never pigeonholing myself into a clique. But by the same token, I vividly remember those occasional bad days, the ones where I felt like the butt of every joke just for showing up that morning, that left me like a ball of rage at the end of the day. I still remember the kids who I made a point to avoid because they made life suck when I couldn’t, and you know the kids I’m talking about. There are some names that people just won’t give their kids, and that’s not ’cause they don’t like the names, it’s because of the people they associate with them. With the exception of Adolf and Anus, I’d say bullies are to blame for those names on the blacklist.

I’m not the only one who remembers these things. When someone hurts you or makes you feel worthless, how couldn’t you remember that?

For instance, the subjects of Bully. It revolves around a scrawny kid whose “friends” stab and punch him on the daily, a gay girl from the Bible Belt whose classmates and teachers reminder her that she’s a “fag,” a girl who got so fed up with the daily abuse that she brought a gun to school, two parents who found their son hanging in his closet, and two parents whose 11-year-old boy took his own life with a gun. They all remember, and for them to be part of this is a textbook definition of bravery. For these kids to go on camera and share their stories, for these parents to do the same in the wake of the world-shattering tragedies they’ve endured, for Lee Hirsch to get out there and make this movie at a time when the world really needs it – that doesn’t come easy.

For these kids especially, to have cameras following them around for a year to catch their anguish on film, it almost seems like an invitation for even more bullying. You hope that it works as a mirror for the kids who’ve made make them a target, but you can’t help but wonder about the off-screen backlash once those same kids see this in theaters. Although as much as we can wonder, I can’t even start to imagine what life must be like for these individuals, and the least we can all do is listen.

But as important as their stories are, I still have this feeling that some people might pass on Bully because it’s already all been said. Bullying is a problem, it needs to stop, what else is there to tell? But that’s just the thing: it’s still a problem, it’s still going on, and this is a story that needs to keep being told until the problem is fixed. Bully might not tell you things you didn’t already know about bullying, but what it does do is put a face to its victims, celebrates those who are working to fix it, and holds accountable those who allow it to fester. It’s one thing to hear about a teen’s suicide, it’s another thing entirely to hear it from his father.

So when you watch a school official “resolve” a bullying situation with a half-assed handshake or put a concerned parent’s mind at ease by saying, “You’ll just have to trust that we’ll do something about this” before sending them on their merry way, it’ll make your blood boil. As someone who plans on being a father himself, the idea of putting them on that bus and sending them off to a school like that scares the living daylights out of me. It’s tough to watch these kids get picked on, but it pales in comparison to the administrators. Imagine a cop standing by while someone got mugged in front of them. That’s what this is like. Rather than address the problem and try to find a way to fix it, they pretend that the problem doesn’t even exist. And unless we’re talking about the troll under your bed, no problem has ever been fixed by pretending it didn’t exist.

I was one of the few in junior high who broke up the fights instead of egged them on, but I still could have been nicer, we can always afford to be nicer. ‘Cause at the end of the day, I still remember the kids that I gave a hard time to, and I still feel like shit about it. So why is it so-freaking-hard to be nice, to do the right thing even if it’s unpopular? What ever happened to The Golden Rule? It’s a lot more understandable when you’re dealing with kids because they can be cruel for even the most inane of reasons, but the adults are just as much to blame.

While the final scenes center on the efforts being made to stop bullying, I do still wish there was more of a focus on what we can all do as parents, as educators, as kids. Granted, there’s no silver bullet to get the bullies to stop bullying and there’s no one thing you can point to as the cause, but the attitude of “There’s only so much that can be done” has only served to foster an epidemic. There is a great deal of incompetency and inaction on display here, and as important as that is to a diagnosis, this could have been an even better venue than it was to start working on the cure.

If someone looks different, if someone’s gay, if someone doesn’t have nice clothes, so what? No one should have to look back on their childhood and think of the hell they had to endure just for being born. To be deprived of a college scholarship because of your sexual orientation, to be deprived of an education due to a group of punks? That crap is just unacceptable and there is no shortage of things we can all do to help.

If you don’t get what the big deal is, I’m guessing you were the bully or your head’s too far up your ass to hear the question because it boggles the mind that a dead child is what got people to address the issue. But if there’s any one reason I gave this movie a 9, it’s the fact that it takes a low point in our history as a people and uses it as a catalyst for change. I mean, bullying has been around forever, and that in itself is a huge reason why no one’s ever done anything about it. But just like the tag line says, it is about damn time we took a stand. These are the kinds of movies that alter our lives, that future generations are going to look back on and be proud of us for. As you can imagine, this is a tough movie to watch, but that tends to come with the territory with required viewings.

21 Comments leave one →
  1. April 4, 2012 12:09 am

    Alex one of the kids in this documentary was from my home town. In fact I lived right by the middle school he went too.

    I was bullied. It sticks with you and it’s a big problem in schools. I hope this movie is played everywhere so that people can see what it causes and what we can do to fix it.

    I can’t wait to see this.

    • April 4, 2012 8:43 am

      I hope it gets the publicity it deserves because folks need to see it. God, bullying sucks.

  2. April 4, 2012 2:03 am

    Fantastic review. I came to hear of this movie after the Weinstein’s debate about the rating. Do you think the R-rating was warranted, or would a PG-13 be appropriate?

    • April 4, 2012 8:46 am

      Thanks! And I didn’t get into the rating debate because the rating’s been removed and at the end of the day it seems to be neither here nor there. But the R-rating is totally unwarranted and I have no idea how it got slapped with it in the first place. Serenity now.

      Anyway, go see it!

  3. April 4, 2012 6:04 am

    I’ve watched a film recently that deals with just as difficult and issue as this. It’s called The Bridge. In it, you watch 23 jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. You see 23 people die on your screen.

    That was a film that was incredibly difficult to watch, but one that something deep inside me said ‘You have to watch this film’.

    Because of this review, I think this will be the second film to do that.

    This is a beautiful review, and I aim to watch this film as soon as I can.

    Thank you

    • April 4, 2012 8:53 am

      I actually saw The Bridge a few years ago. Didn’t carry the same kind of weight for me that this did, but still leaves an impression for the very reason you stated.

      And thanks! Definitely check this out, it deserves to be seen.

  4. April 4, 2012 8:57 am

    This is a great review. I also can’t believe that efforts were trying to be made by the MPAA to stop this film from being accessible to a large audience. Makes you wonder where most people’s headspace is.

    • April 4, 2012 11:04 am

      Thanks! And I’m right there with ya’, I think most everyone is for that matter. Truly bizarre how this initially nabbed an R-rating, but at least they changed it to NR, which I guess is better.

  5. April 4, 2012 5:35 pm

    Eas goin to see this film anyway and still will thinks to everything you said but I feel everyone should see it to see that the problem is present even if your kids aren’t telling you – because sometimes that is a bigger threat from the bullies that if kids tell their parents they’ll get a bigger beating. Plus kids get to that age where kids just don’t like to tell their parents everything. I think we need to honor the kids who took their lives to see the film and switch the perception from the negativity of the way they ended their life to the positive start of change, as you mentioned.

    • April 5, 2012 10:51 pm

      That gets brought up in the film with one of the kids and it is just terrifying for anyone who has, or is going to have, kids. Extremely brave of these kids and their families to share their stories with the world like this, because, like you said, it’s not easy to tell your parents that you’re being bullied and there’s also that fear of inviting even more bullying by saying something. Still, it’s a whole lot better than saying nothing.

  6. April 4, 2012 10:41 pm

    Wonderful review. I knew I wanted to see this the first time I saw the trailer. I think it should be required viewing in schools, definitely middle and high schools. I can’t imagine how difficult it was for the parents who lost children to do this, but I can imagine how they felt they had no choice. Bullying has to stop and the adults, like some of the ones in the film, need to pull their heads out of their ass and wake up.

    • April 6, 2012 9:07 am

      Thanks! And it should be required viewing, in schools especially. Tailor made for it. Whole lot of bravery going on here and a whole lot of idiocy to boot. Worth seeing for both.

  7. Mikyz permalink
    April 5, 2012 3:07 am

    What a Good Review. An important thing to mention is that bullying is not limited to school. It’s as immemorial as life, and its a sad thing to say but it will never stop. It’s a cheesy line to say but we live in “a dog eat dog world”.

    However, punishment must not fail to be met, just last month in my little brother’s school a group of high schoolers stuck a couple of primary school kids in a room and beat them around for no reason whatsoever. They just got a few slaps on their hands as punishment. This is unacceptable. It’s hard not to imagine myself in those kids’ positions. Discipline is a joke nowadays, we are already a belligerent species and bullying just piles it on. It just proves that despite the cultural and technological amelioration we as human beings remain a primitive civilizations. And it’s embarrassing.

    I’m looking to forward to viewing this film.


    • April 6, 2012 9:44 am

      Thanks, man! Agree with you that bullying isn’t limited to school – something that isn’t addressed in the movie – but with a movie like this being made and steps being taken by people across the nation who are just fed up, you gotta have faith that it will stop. The people who can actually do something about it just need to start taking action.

      And that’s fucking crazy about your brother’s school, but isn’t that just business as usual. Discipline is such a joke and the behavior that fosters it is nothing short of embarrassing. Good points and well said.

      Hope you like the movie!

  8. April 5, 2012 5:33 pm

    I started reading your post and it soon had me asking myself, have I been bullied? Oh, no I said. Apart from a few hurtful comments form Kirsty Anderson, the most popular girl in school, I got through fine.

    But then I had to think again. Actually, I was bullied. Not by a stranger or a member of the community, but by my sister. Every day she made my life hell. Maybe when you read that you think, siblings are supposed to fight or, it’s not as serious if you’re related. But I tell you, it was hell living with my sister. She took out all her anger on me all the time. And the repercussions have been huge. I struggle to this day with accepting myself. Oh, and my sister and I don’t have a relationship and never will.

    What about talking about bullying in families? It’s a problem too.

    • April 20, 2012 6:00 pm

      Wow, thanks for sharing that and sorry to hear it. It’s naive to pigeonhole bullying as being done by kids and done in school. It could happen and does happen to everybody at some point. Just glad folks are at least talking about it.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  9. April 8, 2012 10:57 pm

    Thank You, Thank You, Thank You !!!!! Bullying is one of those “dirty little secrects” that has been in exsistence in ALL AGE GROUPS since the dawn of time. My ultimate hope is that this will open up everyone’s eyes as we all have a responsibilty to step up and change the ugliness that exsist in our society. I was the shy, over-weight kid growing up and put up with mostly verbal bullying due to that. Thankfully those experiences taught me to judge people for their actions instead of their appearence.

    • April 20, 2012 5:56 pm

      Well you are welcome. It’s about time this movie got made, for a number of reasons.

  10. mplo permalink
    March 24, 2013 5:16 pm

    As a person who was ostracized and made fun of a great deal for being different from middle school through most of high school, I feel disgusted and angry that there’s so much of that stuff that still goes on, plus my own memories come echoing back at me. Bullying doesn’t have to be physical, and, in my case, I was fortunate that it wasn’t.

    Frankly, since teachers and other school staff all too often won’t do or say anything about bullying, which is also a huge problem. If a kid is being physically bullied, maybe the school should also offer martial arts/self-defense classes, so that a kid will at least develop a little more self-confidence, and thus reduce his/her chances of being bullied.

    • March 28, 2013 4:31 pm

      So sorry to hear about your experience in middle- and high school, that’s effing awful. Bullying’s bullying, physical or otherwise. Kids can really suck sometimes, and so can adults unfortunately.

      And I’ve actually heard of schools that have martial arts classes in place of PE, and I agree, that’s a great idea for a lot of reasons.

      Thanks so much for sharing and keep on keeping on.

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