Film reshapes perspectives on bullying
Bully, directed by Lee Hirsch, examines the situations of kids who are bullied in school. Whatâs striking about the stories is not that the filmâs anecdotes say something new about bullying, but that they enlighten the audience about its poignancy.
The documentary features Alex Libby, a 12-year-old student of East Middle School in Sioux City, Iowa. Heâs been bullied since elementary school. His classmates constantly punch him, call him âfish faceâ and threaten him. His story is not necessarily the most significant, but it is the most representative of the message the film strives to put across: Seemingly harmless taunting isnât harmless at all.
The film alternates between scenes of different families from various states around the country as they deal with bullying. Hirschâs skill as a filmmaker is evidenced through the consistent narrative flow despite the filmâs scope; each of the familiesâ problemsÂ form a unified message and story.
One of the most important points of the film is that bullying is not just âkids being kids,â but is a real case of victims and victimizers. The film fails, however, to emphasize that the problem does not only lie in the aggressive behavior of the bullies but on the passivity of the bullied.
Alex is not to blame for the way other children treat him, but he has come to believe that the kind of interaction he has with his schoolmates is appropriate. When his parents approach him, he merely claims that his schoolmates are âmessing around.â
Though the movie successfully proves that children â no matter how strong-willed â are often unable to deal with bullying on their own, it does not show how anyone else can really help. In fact, it is extraordinarily effective â perhaps in spite of itself â in simply portraying peopleâs frustrated attempts at making a difference.
An example is when Libbyâs parents talk to the schoolâs vice principal. They tell her that Alex is being bullied intensely on the school bus. The vice principalâs reply: âIâve been on that bus. They are just as good as gold.â
The audience knows, from the footage it has seen, that this is far from the truth. And viewers canât help but boil with anger and frustration at their powerlessness. How do school administrators intervene without becoming overly intrusive? How does a child stand up for a bullied schoolmate without facing abuse himself? How does a parent help his bullied child if schools and police departments are unresponsive? The film isnât a guideline to dealing with the problem, but a heart-wrenching expression of the problem itself.
Bullyâs admirable attempt to make its audience empathize with the victims of bullying is aided by skillful cinematography, which is important. An ordinary school day, if beautifully rendered, can make viewers pay closer attention to the film as a whole â and in this case, what happens during that school day.
Hirsch was able to get footage of bullying in action because he made the clever choice to shoot with a Canon 5d Mark II, which to children would âlook like a still photographic camera.â He also spent the whole school year shooting so that children would become used to it. Itâs a strategy that works for the credibility of the film and even makes the audience wonder whether the bulliesâ behavior was worse when the camera wasnât present.
The filmâs music is also well done; the score flows forward nonchalantly but sparkles with intermittently touching moments.
Bully is a reminder of the power of film. The filmâs real strength is that it, if only temporarily, motivates viewers to get involved. Those who see the film might have already known about bullying, but sometimes people need to be reminded of why they should care.