Bullying. It’s a plight that parents around the world hope and prey will never affect their children. Striking only the most vulnerable individuals who posses little hope to fight back, bullies can choose to inflict their wrath using a wide manner of cruel tactics. Name-calling and teasing appear to be the weapon of choice more often than not, but in a heartbeat these vindictive actions can turn violent. Such malicious treatment is more than enough to cause those on the receiving end to feel hurt and alone, but when the bullying occurs during school years, the most confusing time in anyone’s life, the results can be catastrophic. Such is the lesson we learn in the powerful documentary Bully. An eye-opening and often soul shattering examination of the effects bullying can have, Bully is an important piece of art that demands to be seen by all, especially those currently living out their school years.
Adopting a fly on the wall documentary format, Bully has no real strict narrative. Instead of opting to tell a singular story with clear-cut beats, the film instead focuses on several mild-mannered teenagers attempting to deal with the disturbing harassment they receive from their peers on a daily basis. We have Alex, a twelve-year-old who receives servings of gut wrenching physical punishment everyday between bouts of equally hurtful verbal abuse. Next we have sixteen-year-old Kelby who shares stories about being purposely run down by a car and being socially segregated by her schoolmates, all because of her sexual orientation. Then there’s fourteen-year-old Ja’Maya who finds herself in juvie after violently lashing out against her tormentors with her mother’s firearm. Lastly we hear from the families of seventeen-year-old Tyler Long and eleven year old Ty Smalley, two young men who unable to cope with the constant bombardment of bullying, tragically claim their own lives.
Needless to say, Bully makes for confronting viewing. The opening sequence in particular is enough to knock you off your feet before the opening title even flashes up on-screen. Kicking off with archived footage of a young Tyler Long blissfully mingling with his loving family, the film then shifts focus on Tyler’s tearful Dad recalling memories of his son, before finally cutting to a heartbreaking sequence of Tyler’s grieving parent’s visiting their deceased son’s grave. It’s powerful stuff that certainly leaves you shaken, but while you’ll certainly spend much of Bully’s runtime with eyes welling up with tears, you’ll also experience another overwhelming emotion; anger.
Anger at the uncaring children who assault those around them without showing a hint of remorse, but more so, anger at the adults unwilling to step in and intervene. In particular it’s the principal of a school plagued with bullying problems who is seemingly unable to recognize the problem right in front of her nose. In one particular scene, following an unprovoked altercation between two students, the principal makes both the victim and the attacker shake hands in an attempt to quell their quarrel. One of the boys sticks out his hands with a smile on his face, not a care in the world. The other, the meeker of the two, refuses. A defiant act that ensures the quiet student receives a stern lecture from the blasé principal while the other is free to go. An infuriating act to watch considering this boy was not only the innocent recipient of this particular attack, but of many more that occur on a daily basis. Yet his desperate protests go unheard by an authority figure who punishes the innocent and lets the guilty walk away with a smile on their face. It’s not an exaggeration when I say that you’ll literally want to yell at the screen in a fit of rage at times.
Bully is a tough movie to criticise if only because of the grave subject matter that it valiantly chooses to tackle head-on. But if there were one glaring missed opportunity the film misses the mark on, it’s that we’re never given an insight into the minds of those inflicting much of this pain and suffering. It would have been fascinating to see one of these young antagonists attempt to justify their actions. Perhaps they don’t realize the harm that they’re inflicting upon those around them, or maybe they enjoy the hurt they see in their victim’s eyes. Unfortunately we’ll never know since the movie remains a mere silent observer throughout.
Bully is a hard movie to ignore. It’s a gruelling viewing experience that you won’t find any conventional enjoyment in, however it is a film that leaves you wanting to take action. And while the lack of perspective from the bully’s side leaves the production feeling a tad incomplete, it’s hard to argue with a film that delivers such a positive message in an unflinching and effective manner. I’m in total agreement that this is a film that needs to be shown to teenagers around the globe. No it won’t eradicate the bullying problems that’s always going to plague schools in some respect, however if it can help even just a handful of people, then that’s all the difference in the world.
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