REVIEW: Bully

Lee Hirch’s documentary on peer-to-peer bullying brings a frightening insight into the cycles of social, physical and psychological abuse present in schools across America. Bully doesn’t pull any punches – immediately you’re presented with family suffering in the wake of the suicide of their teenage son and the film makes no secret of the fact that it sees correlation between the psychological scars of this abuse with the teen’s suicide.

Bully uses a collection of different students suffering from prejudices towards their race, their sexuality, or their shyness/difference. You’re embedded into their families and see the universal struggle with the assumption of ‘care’ for their loved ones when they’re attending school.

Hirch’s objective and verite style shocks with how intimately and unobtrusively he’s able to capture the violence dished out to the different victims that we’re following. As the children warm to Hirch’s presence they are disarmingly eloquent. His presence isn’t emphasized throughout, preferring an anti-Moore anonymous recording. Hearing the children explain the depths of their seemingly endless despair almost makes literally brought me to the brink of tears repeatedly. One scene where a young gay girl recounts stories where prejudiced teachers openly recounted backward stories of gays being beaten and burned during class INFURIATES.

School administrators are laughably hypocritical. Repeat visits complaining of the suffrage of their children is met with unbelievable and baffling digressions that eventually compel the Film-makers to intervene by sharing the footage of the repeated violent bullying that’s occurring in order to verify the intensity of the abuse - and it shakes the school administrators from their apathy.

Finally Bully catalogues the social media groundswell of an Anti-Bullying movement from parents left in the wake of children who committed suicide. Bully is a litmus test for audience empathy. If you aren’t affected by the content, you’re inhuman.

Bully’s unobtrusive and poetic style, subtly but surgically uncovers the prison-like social hierarchical structure cultivated in US schools – where the administrators practise a resounding ‘look the other way’ philosophy. It’s an affective, powerful, honest voice that demands to be heard.  

Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman

Co-Written and Directed by: Lee Hirsch

Written by: Lee Hirsch, Cynthia Lowen

Bully is screening at the Sydney Film Festival on: 

Sun 10 Jun 9:30 AM State Theatre
Tue 12 Jun 8:45 PM Event Cinemas George Street 9

Purchase tickets here.

Bully is released in theatrically in Australia on the 23rd of August 2012 and the 23rd of April 2012 in the U.S.A.