On that fateful day, did anyone go to freakin’ class?
Taking place in Watt High School, in the wee-hours of the day, high-schoolers such as John, Elias, Jordan, Michelle and many more, all go throughout their day like they usually would. Hanging out, relaxing, and maybe shootin’ some b-ball outside of the school. However, today is not like every other day. See, today is the day that two kids (Eric Deulen and Alex Frost) wake up, decide to skip school, bring a whole army of weapons instead, and just shoot it up.
Remind you of any similar situations?
Could Elephant be about Columbine? Most definitely. But nearly thirteen years after its release, could it also be just about every other school-shooting tragedy in America? Without a doubt and honestly, that’s the scariest reality of Elephant – Gus Van Sant set-out to capture the same kind of overwhelming dread and sadness that existed with that tragedy and in a way, it’s also what predicated so many of these other tragedies.
Not much has changed in this world and whether or not he was hitting at that, Van Sant’s Elephant will, unfortunately, forever be a relevant piece.
Most people (like myself) usually complain about Van Sant’s deliberate pace where it feels like he’s just slowing things down, because he doesn’t have anything else better to do. But for Elephant, it works because it’s deserved. Instead of making this a flick where we see everybody and everyone in this high school, we only get a couple of glimpses into the lives of some of these people where they aren’t really doing much at all, except we feel as if we know who they are, what they represent, and everything they are ever going to be (foreshadowing maybe?). Most of this flick is downright dedicated to Van Sant following these characters as they walk through the halls, talk to other people, not go to class, and do what they usually do on a regular, typical day of school, but the fact that you know something is up, always stays clear in your mind.
The atmosphere that Van Sant creates here is unbelievable. At one side, you have the character-based aspect where we get to know these characters for a bit, start to feel a little something for them because they’re at that part in their lives where older people begin to feel nostalgic for their youth and get jealous, and with that we get to understand just where they stand in the cliques and groups of high school. That’s effective here, because Van Sant is able to make us feel something for these people, solely based on the fact that we know what happens to them, and also, that they feel like real human-beings that are just wandering around their school like most of us have done and still do. It’s a slow pace, but it works, because we feel like flies-on-the-wall for this one, very unfortunate and sad day.
But then, on the other side, you have this one aspect in the back of your head where you know the shootings are going to happen, you know the kids are going to come into the school, and you know people are going to start dying, but the movie does so much twisting and turning with these characters and all of their different view-points, that you never know when and you never know how. In a way, you could almost declare this as a “thriller” where Van Sant really lays on us the fact that we know something is going to happen, but the “when” really eats at us inside. And since you wait for these shootings to actually happen, the tension just continues to build-up inside of you as you feel like every second you spend with these characters, is a second that could be their last alive.
It’s downright unsettling, but that’s sort of the point.
To say that the shootings in this movie are “disturbing”, is an understatement. I have seen plenty of disturbing movies in my past, and most have all freaked me out to the high heavens, but the shootings in this movie did it for me in a way that they just didn’t. That’s mostly because these deaths captured here, on-film, seem almost too real to be faked, or actually put into a film; Van Sant doesn’t glorify them, in a slam-bang action kind of way. There’s not even all that much blood, but when there is, it isn’t made out to be like a horror flick, with guts and gore spread-out all over the walls. They are shown as if somebody was actually getting shot where they fall back, lie on the ground, and practically bleed to death.
By doing this, not only does Van Sant have us feel like everything we are watching is real, but also puts us right on the ground with these fellow kids as they continue to scramble for their lives, because they never know when they might lose it next. By far, the climactic-shootings in this flick are some of the most disturbing scenes I have ever seen in my life and it’s done with no flair, no glitz, no glamour, and sure as hell no special-effects. It’s done in the most realistic-way possible and I have to give Van Sant the highest kudos for going with that direction, and never making it seem like a thriller, even though in my head, it definitely was.
Speaking of the shootings themselves, they provide no easy answers to what happened and that’s alright.
Just like the case of Columbine, a lot of pundits, parents, organizations, etc. all pointed the fingers towards the typical things like rap, TV, and Marilyn Manson. Does this actually mean that this is what drove the guys to go to school with Uzi’s and shoot the whole school up? Probably not, but that’s why Elephant is smart – it never points a finger, nor does it bring any closure. It just shows us that there were two kids who decided that, one day, for one reason or another, they had enough and just wanted to raise some hell and havoc at their school.
Why? We may never fully know, but that’s sort of how the world works: There are no easy answers. It’s a sad reality, but yet, it is the world we live in, where people can be shot and killed, for no real reasons given.
Consensus: Stoic, effective, compelling, and disturbing, Elephant is Gus Van Sant at his most tender, showing the horror of this one great tragedy and never shying away from the darker, gritty details of it.
9.5 / 10