Elephant MAG

February 4, 2009
By Maurice Gattis SILVER, Wilmington, Delaware
Maurice Gattis SILVER, Wilmington, Delaware
6 articles 1 photo 1 comment

The title of Gus Van Sant’s 2003 drama, “Elephant,” refers to the phrase “elephant in the room,” or a serious issue that people refuse to acknowledge and resolve. The issue here is violence in American schools.

The film trails several high school students as they go through a seemingly routine day. It is shot so that time periods overlap and we see the same events from the perspective of different students. All seems normal as the jocks play football and an aspiring photographer takes and develops pictures. Yet an ominous undertone is ever-present as the events unfold and the viewer waits for the climax.

The film is as powerful as it is unique. The actors are real, unknown students, and their lines seem basically improvised, which only adds to the feeling that this could happen at your school. As the viewers begin to uncover the shooters’ plans, you almost want to stop them yourself, but when you realize you can’t (however long it may take you), you’re forced to sit back and simply watch it all unfold. It doesn’t help that the director chose to use extensive tracking shots, following the characters down long, locker-lined hallways, and across fields littered with leaves. Yet the violence is neither glorified nor justified.

Van Sant’s style of filming simply presents the events to the viewer and tends to shy away from offering a motive, or blaming anyone or anything in particular. The ending doesn’t offer closure, leaving viewers as frustrated and angry about violence in American schools as they were before the film. Even so, “Elephant” challenges viewers to think and to come to their own conclusions.

Prior to seeing the film, I assumed it would glorify the Columbine High School massacre and would be highly ­offensive to the families of the deceased. I quickly found that instead of exploiting school violence, Van Sant wrote and directed “Elephant” with respect and reverence. It forces America to take a look at itself, its gun culture, its gun laws, and its glorification of violence and aggression. Today a hard look in the mirror – which this film provides – is necessary.

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This article has 1 comment.

on May. 13 2009 at 11:10 pm
I watched this movie with my mom one time and I thought it was amazing. I agree that the movie does make you think. But that's one of the great things about it. Good review :]

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