Prepare yourself with tissues when watching Bully
Five minutes into Bully I had to take a pause to go and clean up myself.
A father had just told about how his 17 year old son had committed suicide after being bullied at school. His sorrow and pain went right through the screen and cut a hole in my heart.
A voice came from a distance: “Mum, are you alright?”
I wasn’t. I was a mess. But I knew this was a film I wanted to see, or rather which I had to see, because that was the least I could do for those children and their parents. If we look away, if we’re incapable of even listening to them, how could there possibly be a change?
So I came back, prepared with a cup of coffee and a pile of soft tissues, ready to take in the heartbreaking testimonies about something that shouldn’t be allowed to exist.
This is a documentary where you get to follow five kids and their families from different places and circumstances in US. What they have in common is that the kids have been victims of bullying at school and in other places. Two of the children – a 17 year old and an 11 year old – decided to end their lives because of it. One of them takes her desperation in another direction, bringing a gun to the school bus and ends up risking a long prison sentence for it.
We hear stories about bullying, learn about what it makes to the victims and even see some of it taking place in front of the camera.
But what got me worst wasn’t what the children did to each other. It was the reaction the exposed kids and their families met when they tried to get help from society.
Here they were – teachers and police officers – grown-ups who were either incapable or unwilling to react and do something. They seemed to be in a state of denial. “Our school isn’t any worse than others” was the most common answer. “Kids will be kids”, said the headmaster of one school. And we then saw her demanding that a boy who had been harassed by other kids should shake hands with the bully and become his friend. When he rightfully refused, he was the one who was blamed.
There were even moments when even parents slipped, like when a father basically tells his son that he needs to be more manly and fight back, putting himself in respect, not being such a pussy. It’s apparent that he doesn’t fully understand either the situation of the son or how to handle it.
It’s a tough watch, but for all the tears the film brings, it doesn’t leave you hanging in a state of misery and despair over the state of the world. It also shows the power and determination that is growing out of the grief of the affected families. Bullying has to stop now and this is where we start to make a change – talking about it.
I hope this film will reach a wide audience – especially among parents, teachers and in school classes. But be sure to bring a box of tissues as you watch it, and ask a loved one to be on standby for a hug. You’ll need it.
Bully (Lee Hirsh, US, 2011) My rating: 4/5