Sunday, August 23, 2009


Movies on the Sundance Channel always intrigue me. The latest one I caught was Elephant, a movie written and directed by Gus Van Sant. This one intrigued me because of its unusual content, a movie about a school shooting. I found out later that this movie is loosely based on the Columbine School shooting, but it is only loosely based. Some is fictionalized.

This movie, as I later found out, is the second in a trilogy of his called the Death Trilogy. They obviously all revolve around the same theme of death. The first movie is called Gerry and is about two men stranded in the wilderness starring Casey Affleck and Matt Damon. The second is Elephant which is about a school shooting. The third movie is called Last Days and is based on the last days of the life of Kurt Cobain.

Elephant is quite artistically done. Van Sant's films always have this very indie, artsy feel to them. There is very little dialogue in this movie. It's more about character development, as the camera follows around each character on the day of the shooting. You'll follow one student who walks down the hall and passes another, and then later on in the movie you'll watch the day of the student who passes. It's an interesting way to do the movie as opposed to purely one-sided on the side of the shooter.

I liked seeing the different perspectives of the shooters and the victims. You watched the shooters get picked on in class, play piano, plan the shooting, practice shooting, and even make out in the school bathroom. Weird addition. What is the purpose of that? You watch the victims live their last days, and you really can tell how innocent and young they are to experience such a tragedy. One guy even tries to help, which is quite heroic, and he is sadly shot.

The movie chronicles the lives of these characters, and they are quite diverse. Anyone and anyone is killed in this movie, as the movie shows the lives of all of these different students in their days--a popular couple, a teen struggling with an alcoholic father, a gay student, two artsy students, a clique of uptight girls, a jock, and the shooters. I liked showing the different groups because it's one of the reasons that alienates these shooters.

It also scared me, watching this movie, how easy it is for them to pull off such a horrible feat. It was easy for them to score the weapons and carry them right into school. They studied exactly which entrance they could enter, and they studied which areas held the most students with little escape routes. And, what kills me the most is that they were able to practice and plan at home. Their parents were absent. This is what causes these things to happen in the first place!

The movie was a little slow, as the camera literally follows students walking for long periods of time. I could see how this movie would drag on a bit for some, but I found it different, thus interesting. I was waiting for that big moment where the shooting actually happens. It's nerve-racking because you know it's going to happen but slowly pray it doesn't, but you know better. That last build-up kept me hooked, and some parts were ambiguous as to deaths and escapes, but I thought it added some necessary flavor to the film.

The ending was a little odd. One shooter kills the other shooter (for what purpose?) and then goes into the freezer in the back of the cafeteria. He comes across the popular couple and corners them into the freezer. He sings "Eeny Meeny Miny Moe" to them as he points the assault rifles at their chests. Once he finishes singing, the camera cuts to black. Odd. I wanted to see what happened to this kid and how many were taken down in their path.

Elephant is based on and inspired by the Columbine shootings but was dropped with the tag to the shootings because he didn't want to hold too tightly to the facts of that shooting. A lot of the same threads were persistant in the movie and the previous school shooting. Acquiring the weapons, practicing, warning signs, easy access to shooting, being bullied in school. Smilarities.

What is really eerie is that this movie inspired a school shooting to occur, something that really turns the stomach. In 2005, 17 days after its release, a school shooting occurred after a kid watched this movie. It happened at Red Lake High School. The boy brought the movie over to a friend's house, skipped to the parts of the shooting, talked about school shootings, but showed no other signs of actually wanting to do it himself. Days later, he did it. Freaky.

I was kind of mixed on a movie about school shootings. Does this promote school shootings or does it try to show the root of the problem so we can solve it? I think it's a racy topic, but I like that it's being expressed in film because it's becoming a tragic and horrible problem in our country. The problem is that it's glorifying these shooters, which is what they want--attention. We can't give them that satisfaction because then it will create more and more shootings. It's a vicious cycle, but the media just can't help itself.

I still liked it though. The title confused me, but I thought "Does it mean not to ignore the elephant in the room?" That was my only thought, and I was pretty close. It's similar to another movie called Elephant which is a movie about violence based on religion. It is exactly titled for not "ignoring the elephant in the room, especially when it's obvious." I think it's very clever for a title. That makes a lot of sense in this country.

If the subject interests you, it's worth checking out. If you're into indie films or want something different, Van Sant is really talented. I do enjoy his movies because they focus a lot on the message and creativity. It's different from a lot of other blockbuster movies.

Enough said. What do you think of Elephant?

No comments: