Rated: R for adult language, strong sexual content, graphic violence, disturbing images, and scenes of torture.
Genre: Drama Thriller
Directed By: Gus Van Sant
Running Time: 1:21
Review by: Felix Vasquez Jr.
Review Date: 10/20/05
DVD Features:
Featurettes - 1. "Rolling Through Time" (12:00)
2. HBO Television Spot
Trailers - 1. Theatrical Trailer


You think Larry Clark in his vanity captured youthful brutality, and lust for violence? Then you're not really paying attention. "Elephant" takes place in any town in America, with a story that unfolds minute by minute in a school that could be anywhere in America. We're never truly told where the story takes place, but we know this could be and would be any town in America. Mostly derived with the atmosphere of a town similar to Columbine's, we witness the day in the lives of a group of teenagers who go to school and go about their day oblivious.

Performed by real teenagers that don't have an acting history--yet pull in good performances just the same--"Elephant" is a movie that unravels slowly. For some it will be a hard film to watch, and as someone who is utterly desensitized with violence, I was surprised to discover I had trouble sitting through the climax. I was squirming, cringing, turning away, and I literally had goose bumps. "Bang Bang You're Dead" successfully offered insight in to the minds of killers, people whom were pushed around and decided they'd had enough, "Bowling for Columbine" was a disturbing and ultimately pointless attempt to answer questions in to what happened during Columbine, and "Home Room" examined the tragedy through the views of the victims, but no film has pin pointed it like this.

What sets "Elephant" apart from the rest is that it offers no insight, no explanation, no theory, no hypotheses, and no rhyme for reason. It's purely nihilistic in its view of what unfolds and what results. Often times there's a reason for these tragedies; grudges, jealousy, bullies, home problems, the haves and have not's, and sometimes there's just no reason which is the truly scarier aspect. We're given a range of characters whom have a reason to pull off something so horrifying, and then we're presented with no insight or glimpse as to why this would happen. We're given nothing. We're offered no possible theory, and no such attempted explanation as to why this would take place and unfold as it does, which is something that makes it all too disturbing.

On April 20, 1999, two boys wearing trench coats carried a daunting arsenal of weapons harnessed with military web gear into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, and
systematically gunned down thirteen students. Subsequent the horrible killing spree, we were subjected to finger pointing every which way. We live in a world where the inclination that someone must be blamed when something senseless happens arises with every such occasion. With Columbine there was much finger pointing, and much aftershock. People like Marilyn Manson were blamed, as were video games, and movies which were pinpointed but no one bothered to examine their own roles in the tragedy and their lack of attempting to reach out to these young men who killed mercilessly and with pleasure.

I'm not going to try and sympathize with them, but what people failed to realize was that there's often a breaking point. As someone who was both a bully and was bullied relentlessly for three years non-stop in rather cruel fashions, you tend to understand where these killers come from. Try being bullied everyday for three years by people who persist in spite of your attempts to make them stop, and you'll see that eventually you get desperate. It's not an easy situation and much too complex to explain, but either way "Elephant" is yet another offering to the Columbine tragedy that offers the thought that maybe there is just no reason for a kid to pick up a gun and kill someone.

With most Van Sant indies, and as witnessed by "Gerry", Van Sant stays on one picture for a number of minutes, and sometimes he engages us with a constant endless dolly shot that goes on for minutes. For some it's a brutal test of patience, for others it's an often effective experiment that helps increase the tension which is utterly seething. From beginning to end, the environment is like a pressure cooker, and sooner or later we know something is bound to blow. Most of the dialogue with the characters are improvised which adds such a complete sense of realism, and Van Sant draws out the film in the course of ninety minutes keeping us in constant suspense. Van Sant doesn't give us beautiful teens with angst. We get teens who actually look like teens, and young people whom actually convince us that they could be in any high school, and we're also given a glimpse in to the lives of these young people, and with surprising results, it's very effective.

What Van Sant also serves to the audience is a complete crushing of hope within this drama. The equally bullied don't make it, the potential hero we hope will end things doesn't make it, and neither does the attempted reasoner, because that's realism, that's life and with that Van Sant relinquishes our hope that someone will end this madness. Everything is quiet and serene and utterly mundane until Van Sant hits us with the plot twist that just feels like a punch to the gut. "Elephant" ultimately has a sense of nihilism to it, with even the most peaceful scenes drawn out with a method of madness. Van Sant ultimately gives the audience one of the most disturbing, gruesome and horrifying climaxes of all time, a climax that literally gave me chills, and displays the true willingness a person will subject themselves to in order to right the wrongs in their life.

"Elephant" is ultimately one of the most disturbing films I've ever seen, one that gave me a rush of emotions of sadness, horror, disbelief, shock, and anguish, and stood with me hours after I finished it. It's a film that will surely stick with you and drive home some intense emotions and make you re-consider the issues of Columbine once for all. Van Sant aces the view of school shootings in all in senselessness.



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