The plot: “Several ordinary high school students go through their daily routine as two others prepare for something more malevolent.” – IMDB
My thoughts: Elephant deals with a touchy subject, being released a few years after and obviously based on the Columbine High School shooting. Rather than being sympathetic toward the victims or the shooters, Van Sant takes an extraordinarily unbiased stance throughout the duration of the film, leaving it up to the viewer to form their own opinions and explore their own feelings.
The most notable thing about the film is probably Van Sant’s ridiculously long shots, often shot with steadicam and following a student throughout the school. He does a really impeccable job of sticking with characters, who are essentially random and don’t play an integral role to the plot (with the exception of the shooters.) He also does a great job of showing us characters that appear in other character-focused scenes, which might highlight our level of awareness thereby symbolically proving how unaware people are of other people that may pose risks or might be showing some cries for attention. I don’t know – something like that.
In all honesty, the movie manages to be boring and tense at the exact same time. On one hand, we really are watching a typical day in a high school unfold and it isn’t especially interesting or exhilarating. On the other hand, we know that some kid (or kids) is going to shoot up the school and we spend a solid three-quarters of the film waiting for something to happen. It’s only a matter of time and it keeps everyone on edge. Especially considering the way Van Sant shot the film, with time not being linear and giving us a lot of shots that were just begging to end in a gun shot out of nowhere.
My one gripe with the film is that it was hard for me to stop thinking “What kind of high school is this?” – kids just roam around freely and do as they please throughout the day with hardly any teachers/adult supervisors in sight. And as far as I can tell, the film is set in present day so I don’t think the goal was to illustrate how lax security was versus how tight it is at a lot of schools after Columbine.
I’m not sure if I could say that I enjoyed the film, but it’s definitely stuck with me. It’s memorable and verges on being an “experience” while watching it. I was also really impressed with the young actors, some of whom aren’t even really actors. It was an honest and raw film, definitely a worthwhile watch.
Stars: 4/5 (mostly because I found parts a bit confusing and/or boring)