Bullying is one of the more commonplace examples of bad behaviour. It can manifest itself as a belittling remark at work, intimidation in the locker room or, if you are Alex, one of the subjects of the new documentary “Bully,” physical abuse that makes the bus ride home from school everyday a harrowing experience.
At least it is harrowing for the viewer to watch. Director Lee Hirsch shows us the bullying on the bus—Alex is slapped, punched, choked and even stabbed—but what is almost more disturbing is the aftermath. Alex, blank-faced, listens to his mother as she says, “These people are not your friends.” He replies, “If they aren’t my friends, then who is?”
Moments like that and others—with the parents of kids who have killed themselves as a result of bullying, or a family who are considering leaving their Oklahoma town to protect their gay daughter from abuse—are the thing that give “Bully” its power.
This isn’t a Michael Moore style doc, with a glib host walking you through the issue at hand. Instead this is a fly-on-the-wall doc, cooly observing and reporting on its subject. Occasionally the detachment can be frustrating–watching the kids torment Alex is difficult–but it is crucial to tell the story. No stunts are required to amplify the impact of the message. In its raw, unadulterated form “Bully” shines a light on a social problem and while it doesn’t offer many solutions–it does refer the viewer to a website (https://action.thebullyproject.com/)–it makes us look at the problem in a new way. Seeing the ugliness of the bullying and its impact up close and personal is a revelation.
Like any film there are heroes–like the Oklahoma farmer who responds to his son’s suicide by starting a youth movement to battle bullying–and villains–like the teachers who dismiss parent’s concerns with a wave of their hand and a “We’re doing everything we can” attitude–but it is the bullied kids who will stick in your mind long after watching the film.