The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Prepare yourself with tissues when watching Bully

with 19 comments

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

Written by Jessica

October 1, 2012 at 1:00 am

Posted in Bully

19 Responses

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  1. “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

    Personally I think the above is one of the greatest lies ever told. I do not think watching this film wold be a good idea for me. Too close to home as it were. Though I am glad it is made.


    October 1, 2012 at 1:40 am

    • I’m sorry to hear it’s so close to you. It is a tough watch even if you haven’t been bullied. Yet it’s not all dark. It’s rather empowering, inspiring to try to make a change.


      October 1, 2012 at 7:43 am

  2. Have been hearing a lot of things about this doc, have been keeping my eye out for it, but unfortunately it’s still not available over here…


    October 1, 2012 at 9:31 am

    • I was lucky – they broadcasted it at the Swedish public television, which by the way is very generous in showing new, interesting documentaries. They also make them available online for a few days after the screening, though sadly it’s only possible to watch it from Sweden, for copyright reasons I assume.


      October 1, 2012 at 10:42 pm

  3. As a parent I do not want to see this, I think I would be the same as you Jessica… A Mess

    • I say the opposite: it’s your parental duty to watch it. And it’s not just sad. There’s hope too. I think. Provided that we don’t stop watching films like this one, pretending the problem doesn’t exist, because then I think we’re in trouble.


      October 1, 2012 at 10:44 pm

  4. Speaking as someone who was bullied in school, I don’t know if I can watch this. I think it would bring back to many bad memories.

    Dave Enkosky

    October 1, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    • I’m sorry to hear that. It’s not all hopeless though. It feels you with rage too, not just tears. Enough is enough.


      October 1, 2012 at 10:45 pm

  5. What I found really annoying was that the bullying kids didn’t even try to behave when the shooting crew was around filming. That really shows the length of how overboard the up-bringing of these kids have gone. I actually would have wished for a little more focus on the bully’s and their parents as well because thats an equally big problem as the school not really caring which I kind of think they did. They just didn’t get it all right.

    Joel Burman (@joelburman)

    October 1, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    • Yeah, I was a bit baffled too seeing the bullying going on in front of the camera. Either the film team spent so much time with the kids that they forgot they were filmed. Or the kids didn’t realize that what they were doing was something that looked bad to others.

      I think the film worked well without focus on the bullies. When you focus on them it often ends up with that you’re supposed to feel sorry for the bullies too, because they’re messed up kids, which they very well may be, but which I think is inappropriate to pull forward when someone actually has killed themselves.

      I think the focus on the victims this time was deliberate, because it probably works better if you want to show this film at school, trying to make the children understand what their bullying leads to. Talking about the bulliers might not work so well then. And also: do you really think that the bullying kids and their parents would have agreed to participate in the film?


      October 1, 2012 at 10:52 pm

      • I get all your points. However, I think there would have been place for the “other” POV as well especially because I think its a bit generalizing automatically claiming that they would be victimized as well. I think questioning their behavior to them and their parents would have been a good thing. As of now the bullies just becomes a blurry threat.

        As said earlier I understand why they choose to go the route they did but I wouldn’t have mind a little more duality in the film. Still very emotional though.

        Joel Burman (@joelburman)

        October 2, 2012 at 12:23 am

  6. It seems weird to me (or maybe i’m misreading your review), that they aren’t talking to the bullies


    October 1, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    • What I said to Joel: I think it would be hard and possibly inappropriate to focus on the bullies. Just imagine the procedures you would need to go through in order to make sure not to be sued! And if they agreed to participate – how honest would they be? It would be excuses and tears and sometimes tears for good reasons but it would risk to diminish and take away the focus from the victims, which I don’t think is what they need. The stories of the bullying kids is of course an idea for another documentary. But they don’t belong in this one. This is the story of the ones who are bullied and their parents. We owe it to them to listen to their story, and their story alone for once.


      October 1, 2012 at 10:56 pm

  7. Great review, Jessica. Bullying, or any form of abuse for that matter, is terrible and shouldn’t exist. Period. It’s awful that society tolerates and even encourages it.


    October 2, 2012 at 7:40 am

  8. “Sticks and stones may break your bones but words cause permanent damage”

    Mark Walker

    October 2, 2012 at 2:51 pm

  9. I´m must have a heart of stone because the docu didn´t move me at all. Possibly because i´m always a bit suspisious abut how much it´s staged i a docu. The problem about Bullying is an important and it´s worth discussing. But as a documentary i found Bully being a bit boring and kind of lame.
    The thing that was interesting was that they put a bit of the blame on the victims a common thing in Sweden until recent time. I´ve never understood the theory that states that the bully is also a victim.


    October 3, 2012 at 4:46 pm

  10. […] that I loved but couldn’t fit into the list:  Palme, Woody Allen: A Documentary, Bully, Marley, For You […]

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