I wasnt quite sure what to think about Elephant, a movie that came to the silver screen and eventually HBO with much fan fare, when I first heard about it. Elephant (2003) is based loosely on the events surrounding the Columbine High School abomination, only this film doesnt attempt to preach or explain, moralize or rationalize; it just is, and therein lays the problem. As shoot the film has no real value as a tool to enlighten or even entertain. Taken as a whole Elephant is boring, exceedingly so, filled with long empty minutes where nothing of substance takes place; indeed I found myself wanting to turn the movie off several times, but I was determined to see it until its bitter unfulfilling end.
The high school where Elephant unfolds like a golf game is in Portland, Oregon, and in many ways it represents the cavernous, but richly appointed places we educate our suburban youth. I make a point to say suburban, because very few urban high schools could ever reach the opulence of the one depicted in Elephant. And it worth noting that none of the mass shooting that took place across America throughout the 㣾s took place in urban high schools.
Directed by Gus Van Sant, the man who brought us such marvelous films as Good Will Hunting, and My Own Private Idaho, Elephant won Van Sant Best Director honors at the Cannes Film Festival in 2003, and his film was awarded the prestigious "Palme D'Or", the Cannes equivalent to the Oscars Best Picture award (there is no accounting for taste in France it would seem).
At the center (as of there could be a center) of this rambling, disconnected series of shorts is John, a teenager with an alcoholic father. And that is pretty much the extend of what we know about John. He pops up at various times throughout the film and interacts with just about all of the characters with the exception of the shooters, whom he meets near the middle of the film, where he is warned by them not go back into the school. This, as he is wandering out looking for his fatherwho (sort-of) drove him to schooland they are wandering in with their assorted guns, bombs, backpacks, and camouflage outfits. Why they single him out for saving we never know.
Alex and Eric are the perpetrators of the heinous crimes that saturate the closing minutes of Elephant. But the film only shows one of the boys being picked on by the Alpha males at the school, and then only depicted one incident. Nevertheless, Alex and Eric who it turns out might be lovers, hatch the plot to blow up the school and kill allwell almost allof it occupants. It makes no difference to them where the kids are on social pecking order; any human is fair game in their little hunting party of two; indeed the first to die is a rather shy homey girl named Michelle who works in the library. We meet her in the first part of film, staring up into the sky for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably more like three minutes.
Alex and Eric, who both like to play violent video games, order some of their arms from the Internet, and make the bombs, though their manufacture is not actually shown. Nor is their motivation for mass murder, outside simpleminded revenge, depicted or explored in the film in any great depth. The one incident is all we have to mull over as the two hunt down their fellows and teachers with chilly emotional detachment.
There are other people (students and teachers) who we meet throughout the course of the film; the Vice Principle, a student photographer who walks around endlessly taking pictures; a trio of air-headed bulimics who barely eat, and then proceed to the bathroom, go into separate stalls to stick their fingers down their throats; the quintessential it couple, the female half of which is so insecure that she gives a beat-down to any female who even speaks to her man. Through the deliberate lens of Elephant we are given superficial moments in their lives; snapshots of their typical day before the dynamic evil duo end them.
All of the actors in Elephant were not really actors but real high school students. And I heard that there was no real script; the boys and girls were given a broad outline to follow and little else, so the mindless chatter I was sometimes subjected to was just that mindless chatter. The characters for the most part did a good job, but parts of the film look and felt as though I was watching a cable access channel production, complete with really bad acting and segments that went nowhere and meant nothing.
In the final analysis, Elephant did not further my understanding of the events that might lead children to kill on a mass scale. I cannot, for the life of me understand what the critics at Cannes saw in this boring little film. The title Elephant is self evident, but we never saw the hulking gray mass lumbering in any room in this film. There was were lessons to be learned to be sure, like we need better gun enforcement, but that lesson was not riding on the back of an Elephant.
Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: None of the Above
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age
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