In 1914, German troops invaded Belgium and the Netherlands as a shortcut to Paris. After only token resistance, the army paused along the way just long enough to burn down centuries-old monasteries and cathedrals. For more than 150 years, cowardly white men (and women) have donned hoods while terrorizing people of color. There are men who brutalize and rape women, where such behavior has nothing to do with sex.
And, there are young people on buses and in school hallways who loom large and prey on the geeks, the sensitive, and the less popular.
All of these people are bullies.
“Bully,” now playing at the Manlius Art Cinema, is an extraordinary documentary that addresses the psychology, the effects, and response of being pushed around as an adolescent boy or girl. It is not a pretty film; it bounds the subject to young people in school and it goes where the subject takes it.
As an art form, “Bully” effectively communicates a number of very prickly subjects:
—What we are as kids does not define our life, although many young people experience years of frustration. They may be shy, they may not be good athletes, they not be particularly smart, they may be too smart, or they may not be able to stand up for themselves. These young people often fall prey to the sharks in the crowd.
—Most kids want to be popular, or they just want a friend. When they are alone or when the system lets them down and when they fall prey to bullies, they are affected in different ways. What the effect upon their psyche is depends on the individual. In many cases, the psychological effects on individuals victimized by bullying, particularly as they transcend puberty, are devastating.
—Bullies function as a pack mentality, even to the point where possibly well-meaning individuals join in simply to avoid being left out or, worse, calling attention to themselves.