The much-hyped movie “Bully” opens today and last week I was thinking: I must take my kids to see that. My next thought was: Maybe I shouldn’t take my kids to see that? This ambivalence comes from knowing it’s an intense movie – two of the five stories in the film are about children who killed themselves because of the relentless bullying they received.
“Bully” was originally rated R because of profanity, but The Weinstein Company challenged the MPAA over the rating and got it changed to PG-13. Like most parents, I’m also wondering if – even as a PG-13 movie – it will be too disturbing for my two teens. Or is it just the kind of thing they need to see?
Richard Corliss wrote in Time Magazine before the rating changed “… if kids want to see a life-changing film, they should sneak in.” Sean O’Connell, who blogs about movies for the ticketing website Fandango, wrote a review that lobbies for watching this movie with your child and carving out time to talk about it. Much of the media coverage has urged parents not to let their kids see it alone.
And I have to admit, I’m worried the movie will be too intense for me, too. Mr. O’Connell calls it “a horror movie for parents.” In his heartfelt review he writes that he “prepared himself for the worst” and “still wasn’t ready.” It’s always difficult and disturbing to watch children suffering, and to watch the agony their parents endure. O’Connell tells us that at the end of “Bully,” Director Lee Hirsch shows footage to the parents of bullied pre-teen Alex “so they can understand what their precious son endures on a daily basis. Alex’s concerned mom asks her son if what these kids are doing to him makes him feel good. ‘I’m starting to think I don’t feel anything anymore,’ Alex responds, and my heart rips in two.”
Just reading that ripped mine to shreds too.
I was mulling all this over when my son, who is in eighth grade, told an unsettling story at dinner. There’s a boy, Mike – and I’m changing names her to protect the innocent or not so inoccent – also in the eighth grade, who no one likes. He isn’t a very nice kid. He also has a serious case of acne. My son and some boys were standing in a circle talking when Mike walked over and said “Hi.” One of the boys in the group yelled, “Shut up pizza face!” Mike walked away as he usually does, defeated. “It was pretty funny,” my son said. I was floored: he thinks that’s funny??
“I know Mike is annoying,” I told him, “but can you imagine what his life is like? Every morning he wakes up knowing he’s got eight hours ahead of him of teasing, taunting, name calling and humiliation.” Every single day, since he came to this school, Mike has been bullied, just mildly enough that there’s no punishment meted out, no discipline given. And he isn’t about to complain to his parents or anyone else.
A couple of days later my son was waiting with another friend, Stuart, after school. They were bored. Stuart said, “Let’s find Mike.”
My son knew what that meant: let’s harass Mike, for sport. He said, “No. It’s not right to bully him.”
My son told this story at dinnertime, a few days after he told the pizza face story. “I thought about what it would be like to wake up everyday, knowing that I’d be bullied,” my son said. “It would be horrible.”
I thought if just one dinner conversation about this could change my son’s thinking, perhaps the movie would not only reinforce that change, but also cause my son and his friends to rethink how important civility and kindness are, even if someone is annoying. Or has acne.
So I made my decision: we will see "Bully," for sure.