Can One Small Act Lead to Change?
We like to think so, but the concept is counter-intuitive at best. After all, one person cannot effect change in the greater world, can they?
The idea of the Butterfly Effect has taken hold of our imaginations. In itself the idea is scientifically insignificant, until rounding was introduced to a value in a computer program for modelling predictive weather phenomenon. Then it changed the outcome in the what might happen two months down the line.
But does it really happen in “real” life?
We watched this award winning movie last night.
The plot line is simple, but far-reaching.
Mildred Hayes is grieving the rape and murder of her teenage daughter Angela that occurred seven months earlier. Angry over the lack of progress in the investigation, Mildred rents three abandoned billboards near her home, and posts on them: “Raped While Dying“, “And Still No Arrests?“, and “How Come, Chief Willoughby?“ The billboards upset the townspeople, including Chief Bill Willoughby and Officer Jason Dixon, the latter being a racist and a violent alcoholic. The open secret that Willoughby suffers from terminal pancreatic cancer adds to everyone’s disapproval. Mildred and her son Robbie are harassed and threatened, but to Robbie’s chagrin, she stays firm about keeping the billboards up.
While Willoughby is sympathetic to Mildred’s frustration, he finds the billboards an unfair attack on his character. Angered by Mildred’s lack of respect for his authority, Dixon threatens businessman Red Welby, who had rented Mildred the billboards, and he arrests her friend and coworker, Denise, on trivial marijuana possession charges. Mildred is also visited by her abusive ex-husband Charlie, who blames her for their daughter’s death.
Willoughby brings Mildred in for questioning after she injures her dentist in an altercation in the dental clinic. During the interview, Willoughby coughs up blood. He leaves the hospital against medical advice and spends an idyllic day with his wife Anne and their two daughters, then commits suicide. He leaves suicide notes for several people, including one to Mildred, in which he explains that she was not a factor in his suicide and that he secretly paid to keep the billboards up for another month, amused at the trouble this will bring her and hope that they will keep attention on the murder. Mildred is threatened by a crop-haired stranger in her store. Dixon reacts to the news of Willoughby’s death by assaulting Welby and throwing him out of a window. This is witnessed by Willoughby’s replacement, Abercrombie, who fires Dixon.
The billboards are destroyed by arson. Mildred retaliates by tossing Molotov cocktails at the police station, which she believes is unoccupied for the night. However, Dixon is there to read a letter left for him by Willoughby, which advises him to let go of hate and learn to love, as the only way to realize his wish to become a detective. Dixon escapes with Angela’s case file but suffers severe burns. Mildred’s acquaintance James witnesses the incident and provides Mildred with an alibi, claiming they were on a date. Dixon is treated for his burns, and he is temporarily confined in the same hospital room as Welby, to whom he apologizes.
Discharged from the hospital, Dixon overhears the man who threatened Mildred bragging in a bar of an incident similar to Angela’s murder. He notes the Idaho license plate number of the man’s vehicle, then provokes a fight by scratching the man’s face. At home later, he removes a sample of the man’s DNA from under his fingernails. Meanwhile, Mildred goes on a date with James to thank him for the alibi. Charlie enters with his 19-year-old girlfriend Penelope, and he admits to burning the billboards. Mildred tells Charlie to treat Penelope well, and she leaves.
Abercrombie informs Dixon that the DNA sample does not match DNA found on Angela’s body and that the man was overseas on military duty and had come back to the country 9 months before. Dixon stays confused and does not connect the clues. Still his instinct tells him the guy is guilty. Mildred and Dixon conclude that the man must be guilty of some other rape, and set out for Idaho to kill him. On the way, Mildred confesses to Dixon that she set the police station fire, though he indicates that he knew it was her all along. They express reservations about their mission but agree to decide what to do along the way. (Wikipedia)
Although this film is clearly a fantasy, it has many truthful elements which seem to echo the Butterfly Effect. But I think the most important one involved tho letters that Chief Willoughby left for Mildred, Dixon and his wife. They were masterpieces of how to effect change in others, and the results were visible.
So, try to remember that no act, however small, goes unnoticed. You might not be able to predict how things will turn out, but you can be sure something will change.