2011, Movies

Bully (2011, Lee Hirsch)

This is one of those advocacy documentaries, as I’m sure you’re aware. And you cannot go into it expecting something other than that.

As an advocacy film for a world where there is less bullying, it is extremely affecting. Some of the stories told in this film are devastating and it’s a reminder for someone like me of how fortunate I am, having grown up where and when I did and living where I live. (And, also, I should mention for those who have never met me: I’m a large male human being, which has its advantages when it comes to bullying.) It’s not a surprise that teenagers are awful to each other. That’s upsetting at times but it’s not a surprise. But what’s surprising and upsetting in this film is some of the adults, who range from being complicit to actively contributing to the terrible experiences of these teens. (There is one particular story about a teacher dealing with a lesbian which is particularly awful.) It is affecting and you are unlikely to get through it without your emotions telling you “Something must be done!”

But like all advocacy films, this one has problems. A tiny bit of the bullying is caught on camera, and you wonder to what degree the students were aware of the presence of the film crew. This is always an issue with any of these films that follow people, particularly with teens. And I can’t help but wonder about these scenes.

However, those scenes are sporadic. For me, the bigger issue was a overall lack of focus – too many stories for the runtime, with not enough attention to each.

That being said, the film is very affecting. And it made someone like me, who is large enough to have avoided physical bullying, and was in the right head-space mentally to deal with the emotional bullying, more sympathetic to the idea of trying to eradicate something I assume to be universal.


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