Some movies hit certain folks where they live, and I’d be lying if stories about writers didn’t hit in a personal way each time they’re seen. Black Butterfly is one of those that hit a nerve, but thankfully not one that’s too sensitive since Paul, played by Antonio Banderas, is a struggling writer that lives on his own out in his own, out of the way cabin situated in the hills where he drinks all the time and writes occasionally. This is a guy that’s fallen on hard times without any doubt since he’s in the process of selling his house, he’s separated from his wife, and now, he’s suffering a users bout of writer’s block that plenty of writers know at least a little something about. That is a writer’s hell more often than not, as the ability to make the words come isn’t the problem most times, it’s the ability to maintain the connection between your brain and your fingers to keep things flowing as they need to in order to keep the story moving. Even admitting that one is stuck is a hardship at times.
While it’s true that some authors turn to alcohol to help out in one way or another, not all of them turn to a bottle to make things better, or just make them go away. Paul is the type of character that, when stuck, tends to brood and make things worse, but when he comes across Jack, who is played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, an apparently aimless drifter that decides that he wants to stick around and fix up the place when Paul decides to bring him home, things only start getting stranger, then worse. Jack kind of makes himself at home as he prompts Paul to give up drinking and start writing seriously again, even going so far as to tell Paul that he should write their story, of how he picked up a hitchhiker and gave him a ride. When Paul does start writing, however, Jack is displeased with it and burns the draft, and eventually, Paul wakes up to find Jack holding a knife to his neck to prove a point as to why his story was garbage. In other words, Jack is trying to motivate Paul, but in one of the strangest and most dangerous ways.
It’s only when Jack decides to go truly crazy, pointing a gun at Paul when he answers the door to receive his groceries and then abducting the realtor, played by Piper Perabo, that Paul has apparently become close to as is indicated at the beginning of the movie. Things continue to spiral out of control as Jack holds them both hostage in the house, indicating that they won’t be going anywhere due to his paranoia. When Jack shoots a sheriff however things go way out of control, and Paul and the realtor, Laura, make a break for it by trying to run toward the train tracks just over the hill. Of course, Jack anticipates this and ends up capturing the two of them and marching them back to the cabin, where he closes himself in Paul’s study with Laura after tying up Paul in the upstairs bedroom.
After escaping, Paul corners Jack in the room and starts talking about how he knows what it’s like to kill. Upon shooting Jack, however, it’s revealed that the gun is loaded with blanks, which allows Jack to grab the shotgun and knock Paul out with it. After coming to, Paul sees several people wearing FBI badges and jackets inspecting his cabin, while the sheriff he thought to be dead is alive and looking around as well. Finding that he’s handcuffed to the chair he’s sitting in, Paul has no choice but to listen to Jack tell him how long the FBI has been looking for him as he then tries to get a confession out of Jack for the murder of his ex-wife. It’s only when Jack notices a certain photo and an excavator outside that he puts two and two together and assumes that Paul buried his ex-wife beneath the artificial pond he dug. When Paul tries to make a confession to avoid the death penalty Jack states that he likes the end of his story better.
This is when Paul wakes up and realizes that he’s sitting in the same position he was, which means that for the audience, this entire sequence was a dream, and as Paul begins to type, titling his story Black Butterfly, indicating that everything was the inspiration for the script he’s about to write as the credits begin to roll. But that begs the question of whether Paul really is a killer, or if his mind was simply going to places that were absolutely needed in order to serve up the kind of story that would keep an audience enthralled. In a way though, it almost feels like a giant cheat, a way to keep people watching to the end.