Bully is the 2001 film from director Larry Clark (Kids, Another Day in Paradise.) It is the true story of a group of Florida teenagers who decide to impulsively murder an abusive boy in their social circle. The film stars Bijou Phillips, Rachel Miner, Nick Stahl, Michael Pitt and Brad Renfro. It is based on the 1998 novel Bully: A True Story of High School Revenge by Jim Schutze, which was based on the 1993 murder of Bobby Kent.
Essentially, a boy named Marty had been physically and verbally abused his whole life by his “best friend” Bobby. Although both of the boys’ parents were somewhat aware of their unhealthy relationship, an although Marty did take small measures to escape Bobby, it wasn’t enough; they remained “friends,” and the abuse continued. A girl named Lisa starts dating Marty and gets pregnant. She claims to hate the abuse Marty endures and convinces him that the only solution would be to kill Bobby. While contriving their plan, they somehow manage to get five of their peers to assist in the murder, and it’s carried out. Their initial power in numbers decreases when some start to tell outsiders about the murder, leading to the arrest of all seven participants.
Being released almost a decade after the actual murders, and without the luxury of knowing all the details of these people’s lives before the murder occurred, this film may seem unrealistic, and the actions of the people involved downright ludicrous. Even though this took place in the early 90s, forensic evidence did still exist, yet these kids didn’t even seem to recognize the word “alibi.” The crime was disorganized, sloppy, and there were certainly far too many people involved. However, the most unbelievable part of the case is why the murder was carried out.
If you believe in an eye for an eye, then Kent should have suffered the same abuse he inflicted on others. Instead of giving him a warning with the same physical abuse he dished out however, Marty and his gang decide that murder is the only feasible solution. If Marty was scared, it seems he could have hired the same “hit-man” that assisted in the murder to scare Bobby with a beating, or at the very least tell Bobby to leave Marty alone. Although Marty was probably too ashamed to do this, he also could have found a way to notify police about the issue, or portray a cry for help to his family, who hopefully would then get some higher authority involved (While this may have seemed out of the question in his older years, he could have done this in his younger years before the abuse spiraled out of control.) Basically, there was no need to murder Kent; something could and should have been done years before.
In addition, the participation of everyone involved seemed almost too unreal to believe. Those who didn’t even know Kent went along with the plan simply cause they were bored, and like most young people do, they swallowed all the bad talk about Kent from Lisa without questioning whether or not it had validity; even Donnie was conversing and getting along with Bobby in the car before he helped stab him to death. The film made it seem as if each of these kids were thrown plenty of warning signs and given plenty of moments to back out on the plan, but the consequences of murder didn’t seem to outweigh being called a coward or a bad friend. Lisa, who was essentially the one to orchestrate the whole thing according to the film, didn’t truly seem concerned about Marty’s welfare in regards to the abuse, but simply wanted him to herself because she got pregnant. While it was stupid for Marty to agree, from his perspective, a girl he cares for just gave him the ultimate solution to end all the abuse forever. Killing Bobby would help erase his past and allow him to start over. So Marty was perhaps the one participant who had some sort of justification for being mad enough to commit murder; of course, he’s the only one who got a death sentence.
As far as why Bobby abused Marty, perhaps Bobby had a combination of jealous an intimate feelings towards Marty. We can clearly see he has homosexual tendencies but denies it, and sleeping with women only makes him hate women even more. To act on this “crush” though would mean to outcast himself from family and society, not to mention it would break his dominant hold on Marty, which seems to be the only thing in life he has control of. Bobby is frequently seen washing his hands in the film, suggesting he has OCD, which stems from anxiety. What the film makes unclear, and perhaps what Clark didn’t have time to fit in, (or perhaps what was never known) is why this obviously insecure and anxious person felt the way he did. His parents, while being suffocating and perhaps not understanding, do not seem even verbally abusive, although certain statements from his father made me think otherwise (“The best future you can have is to be your own master.”) Still, this can be summed up to parental pressure at best. I’m curious to know more details of Bobby’s life as usually someone inflicting abuse has received it themselves.
Overall, while Kent was definitely guilty of some things and perhaps should have suffered as a result, the people who murdered him were far from innocent, and as the concluding courtroom scene shows, no one was remorseful, even after being sentenced. Their collective immaturity hung in the air while they continued to blame each other for a murder they all took part in. In the end, three of the participants were given life in prison, while Marty was given the death penalty (although during the time of the film it was appealed to life in prison.)