You’ve heard the one about the elephant in the room? Symbolic of a problem that people refuse to face for so long that they’re no longer able to see it right in front of them….as big as an elephant. The 2003 movie directed by Gus van Sant, entitled Elephant, is inspired by the Columbine High School tragedy in 1999.
“We should be able to pick them off one-by-one,” says one of the boy assassins to the other on the way to school. “But most importantly, have fun.”
On the one hand, Elephant was a disturbing movie to watch and evoking feelings is usually the sign of a good movie, whatever the emotion. But in this case, I think the viewer’s emotions are all coming from their memory of what they know of the terrible murders at Columbine and drawing parallels between the real life event and the film. In other words, you knew what was coming in the movie and it was chilling because something similar really happened. The film, on a stand-alone basis though, tells us nothing more. It’s very cold and detached. We see stereotypical high school kids – jocks, nerds, the vacuous popular girl clique, the outsiders – and we see them mostly from a distance. The camera follows them as they stroll through halls. In some cases, the same scene is played from different camera angles and perspectives. Very “arty”. It didn’t win no Palme d’Or at Cannes for nothin’.
Besides being totally void of content and emotion, it doesn’t really “end”. Thus, most people won’t like this movie. A couple things that lost it some credibility with me was the ease with which it depicted the purchase of guns over the internet. An assault rifle was delivered to the door by a UPS guy, who signed it cheerily over to the school-skipping teenagers. It can’t be that easy. Further reading tells me this is highly implausible. Maybe Michael Moore can lie to…err tell… us all about it. The other thing, and this came totally out of the blue, is the (now seemingly standard) homoerotic twist. Right after one killer plays Beethoven’s Fur Elise on the piano while the other plays a violent video game, they watch a documentary on Hitler, then take a farewell, pre-massacre shower together. Bizarre. And there’s a scene earlier where a group of kids in school discuss whether or not you can tell if someone’s gay just by their appearance. It seems every movie has to inject some gayness into it, even if it’s inexplicable. In this case, the director can’t be blaming homosexuality, since I’ve read that he’s openly gay. I’d like him to explain his reasons. Maybe he did it for the French audiences.