Movie of the Day – Elephant
June 20, 2012 2 Comments
I remember watching this with a date when it came out back in 2003 and thinking, “well this is a real mood killer”. Besides the fact that it was her decision to watch a Gus Van Sant film that was apart of his “Death Trilogy”, I was unable to shake the feeling of chills and uneasiness that came over me when I watched this film, thus making for awkward conversation after it was over. Trying to tell a story, as fictional as it may be, of a high school shooting only 5 years after the Columbine shooting was provocative, but important. Some may say it is exploitative and could incite copycats, but film in general is a medium used to showcase life, even in a fictionalized setting. Elephant is a powerful film that shined a light on the subject of school shootings, unflinching and unwavering in the portrayal of fiction students on both sides of a tragedy.
Eric (Eric Deulen) and Alex (Alex Frost) are two close friends who are students in a well-to-do suburb of Portland, OR. Eric and Alex are at once ordinary and misfits; while they seem to be confined to the edges of the clique-oriented social strata of high school, little about their behavior draws attention to itself. Or at least not during a typical school day; on their own time, the two boys are fascinated by Nazi iconography, enjoy violent video games, tentatively explore homoerotic desires, and coolly begin to make plans for an armed ambush of the school, drawing up working diagrams of the lunch room during study hall and buying rifles over the Internet. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
I think the largest impact that this film has, instead of other films that deal with this subject either directly or indirectly, is the surreal nature that toes the line between realism and fiction. The dreamlike camera movement and cinematography give this very personal feel to the film, almost unsure if what is taking place has come from home videos or even live event footage. It is a beautifully dark film, personal at times as we can place ourselves in the clique nature of high school. The merging of stories from different students and how they are affected by the story gives it the weight that is needed to take it from an exploitative film artful film. It’s not just provocative art that Van Sant showcases in Elephant, but the core issues that are heart when a tragedy like this happens.
Elephant does its best to highlight, in a meaningful way, the elements that come to light in the wake of a shooting. From the scapegoats people seek to blame, to the students who carry out the act, and those “innocent” bystanders that are caught in the cross hair. I realize I put quotes around “innocent”, but sometimes it is the actions of a few that push a student over that edge. I am not saying bullying is the reason for shooting, but Elephant has scenes of bullying against the shooters that lead you to believe that it is just one part of the whole. Van Sant does his best not to trivialize the events of a shooting, rather creating a patchwork of elements that contribute to the tragedy. Casting relative unknown actors or even students themselves allows us to have a stronger connection to the events, not focusing on a recognizable face.
It’s a chilling film, one that might strike a bit too close to home for some that have been effected by a school shooting. Some people cried foul that this film is exploitative and could cause copycat acts to be done, but then they would miss the point of this film. Elephant is meant to offer us questions and theories about why youth resort to violence, but in the end there is never really ever any answers to be had. We can sit and speculate all we want when something like this happens, but all too often we look to push blame immediately on a scapegoat to lessen the pain. This film does an amazing job of showing that there is never really an exact answer to be had which frightens people to the core, not knowing how or why it all happens other than it just does. Some might not like that reality, but Van Sant does his best to get across this point with Elephant.
*images via RottenTomatoes