Butterflies Are Free is a 1972 Academy Award winning (for Best Supporting Actress Eileen Heckart) film adaption of Leonard Gershe’s 1969 play of the same name. The difference between the play and the film is an aesthetic one that changes the entire tone and weightiness of the film. The story is one of a young man who was born blind. He moves out on his own, in New York City, and balances a free-spirited actress-neighbour as they fall in love, a protective yet controlling mother, and his own sensitive nature.
“I only ask to be free. The butterflies are free. Mankind will surely not deny to Harold Skimpole what it concedes to the butterflies." Bleak House, Charles Dickens.
The movie ever-so tenderly depicts an idealistic blind young man (played by Edward Albert) searching for independence. The two women in his life (played by Goldie Hawn and Eileen Heckart) verbally debate what they feel is the best for him but really they are debating their differing perspectives on life. It is an ancient debate between the young and those aged with experience. Youthfulness endorses openness to the world because confines destroy confidence and self-worth. On the other hand experience warns of a lovelorn world that disposes of obsolete and optimistic idealists. Yet youth is not a defense against sorrow, so we settle for the realization that openness to love eventually leads to pain. While experience preaches protection from the world, it does not guarantee happiness let alone a sense of home.
The film is a kindred epiphany about self-discovery. The film as a whole produces a thesis: that there is no protection from despair and pain. The young, the old and even the blind are as susceptible as we all are to heartache. The film provides that only freedom can soothe suffering; the freedom to make mistakes, to love openly, and to be independent. All of this comes with great risk yet it offers a great happiness. Butterflies Are Free, with its unique voice, shares with us the story of three people who find their road to a place entangled with risks and misery, freedom and love. A place so often called home.