2004 science fiction thriller The Butterfly Effect quietly reversed the story of a classic Christmas movie to deliver a truly tragic story. The Butterfly Effect follows Evan, a young man who has spent much of his life having blackouts, who one day discovers that he can relive those forgotten moments and change the course of history. However, Evan soon learns that tampering with his own past can have unwanted side effects, and that timeline-hopping might not be the solution to his problems.

The Butterfly Effect is exactly the sort of film that works in theory but lacked in the execution. Despite its intriguing premise, The Butterfly Effect is riddled with serious plot holes that undermine its story. It’s particular manner of time travel is ill-defined and fails to follow its own rules, making the result a somewhat unsatisfying narrative mess. What’s more, it’s a movie that simply becomes more and more existentially bleak until the moment that the credits roll.

The Butterfly Effect‘s unhappy ending sends a message that makes the film the opposite of the time-honored Christmas classic It’s A Wonderful Life. The feel-good holiday staple famously tells the story of how much good one single person can do without realizing it, and how life is always worth living if it’s lived well. However, The Butterfly Effect is a film that decided, for some strange reason, to explore the opposite idea: that some people’s existence just make everything worse for everyone they love.

The Butterfly Effect Is The Tragic Antithesis Of It’s A Wonderful Life

Ashton Kutcher as Evan in The Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly Effect actually has two different endings, but both establish the same idea: that the people Evan loves are better off without him. The film’s theatrical ending sees Evan driving the woman he loves out of his life so that she can have a happier upbringing without him, but the director’s cut ending is even more bleak. In that ending, Evan realizes that the only way to protect his loved ones is to never exist at all, and he travels back to the moment of his birth in order to commit suicide with his umbilical cord during childbirth.

The director’s cut ending is incredibly tragic and insensitive, and it doubles down on The Butterfly Effect‘s depressing message. However, regardless of which ending, the film’s message is clear: despite his best intentions, Evan’s presence only ruins the lives of his loved ones. It’s unclear exactly why this was chosen to be the focal point of the film’s story, because it’s so needlessly unpleasant that it makes what would otherwise be a relatively interesting movie so unsettling that it deserves to be forgotten.

Flipping the central premise of It’s A Wonderful Life in order to remind its audience that life isn’t ALWAYS good is a particularly bizarre idea. As a result, not only has The Butterfly Effect aged particularly poorly, but it’s become a film that is potentially emotionally triggering for a vast amount of people. Honestly, the only way to counteract the sour taste The Butterfly Effect leaves in the mouth is to engage in a rewatch of It’s A Wonderful Life (which is always uplifting, regardless of the season).