Movie review: Bully

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Bully is one of those films that has you leave the cinema with a sense of sadness and frustration. Following the lives of five families over the course of a school term, the documentary explores the harsh realities of school life for children who have found themselves positioned on the lower end of the social hierarchy.

Beautifully shot and edited, Bully manages to not just capture the overt emotions but the subtle mannerisms that are often far more telling of a person’s frailty and headspace. Without deliberately positioning anyone in the ‘bad guy’ role, the film definitely doesn’t cast the teachers and school administration in a particularly flattering light. You couldn’t help but be taken aback by just how incompetent and unaware of the problem the schools were; their antiquated methods of care and pseudo-solutions are a recurring theme throughout the film.

On the flip side, some of the wisest and most rational sentiments came from children aged no more than 11. One particularly affecting scene saw a boy reflecting on his late friend in such a profound way that it instantly changes your perceptions on just how necessary it is to listen to these kids. Juxtapose that once again with the empty rhetoric you hear repeatedly from the school staff and you can’t help but feel aggravated.

As much as the film uncovers the shocking realities of bullying in middle America, it does little in offering a solution to the problem. There are glimmers of hope laced throughout the film, but at the same time each case differs slightly from the other, making it impossible to pinpoint the root of the problem or how it could be fixed.

A perfect example is the idea of ‘standing up for yourself’ in hopes of deterring bullies from seeing you as an easy target: on one hand we’re presented with a success story, on the other a victim ends up in juvenile detention for taking a gun on a school bus. Sure, that’s an extreme case – but it does demonstrate the lengths to which these children can be pushed mentally. The fact that the girl in question even had access to a firearm is another issue entirely.

I think the most important thing to take away from this film is that there are no easy answers. At the crux of this issue is the lack of tolerance and acceptance in schools: is this being filtered through to children from their parents, or is this just simply a case of “kids will be kids”?

Bully is one of those must see films – partially because thought provoking social documentaries are few and far between, but also because it gives a voice to the wide spread epidemic of silent sufferers.

Bully hits cinemas on August 23 and Headspace is hosting special advance charity screenings in the lead up to the film’s release.