In 1999, the country was shocked when two boys in Littleton, Colorado
loaded themselves up with military hardware and entered Columbine High
School to kill as many of their classmates as they could before killing
themselves. Many people tried to explain the shootings as the result of
the easy availability of violent videogames or Marilyn Manson's music.
Gus Van Sant's Elephant chronicles the events of a similar day at a fictional
school in Portland, Oregon. He offers no explanations at all.
Starring: Alex Frost, Eric Deulin and John
Through the use of seemingly endless tracking shots and the repeated
use of several scenes from different perspectives, Van Sant documents
the daily activities of the victims and the killers. His film offers little
in the way of plot development, character development or motives. It simply
appears to be a visual diary of the last day of several high school students'
As the film unreels, we visit with John (John Robinson), a surfer-type
with an alcoholic father (Timothy Bottoms). The baton -- in the form of
the camera -- is passed then to Eli (Elias McConnell), a photography buff
who takes pictures of a couple in the park before school. Then, we see
Michelle (Kristen Hicks), an introverted girl who doesn't want to wear
shorts to gym class. On to Nathan (Nathan Tyson) and Carrie (Carrie Finklea),
an attractive couple who are signing out of school to go to lunch together
and who may or may not be expectant parents. And, on and on, until we
get to Alex (Alex Frost) and Eric (Eric Deulin), two misfits who don't
seem to be well-liked and have a fixation on automatic weapons and Nazi
documentaries among other things.
It's hard to tell why they
are they way they are because -- as with the other young people the
film briefly introduces -- the viewer isn't given
a sense of who they really are or what they've done to be pigeonholed
as the film tries to do to them with such a small amount of given information.
We're only given a few minutes with each person and then on to the next.
Is Van Sant trying to say that that's how teens are? That they only take
a few minutes to make up their minds before they deem someone a "geek" or
a "hottie" (Insert your own "cool" jargon. I'm too
old to know what the proper terms are anymore.) I'm not sure I'm sure
what he's trying to say, if anything. We do learn enough to keep them
from being completely anonymous, but not much more.
He certainly doesn't lay the blame for the eventual killing spree on
any one thing or even a group of things. Van Sant merely dangles possibilities
in front of his viewers and lets them decide. In the process, since nothing
more than what is absolutely necessary is ever revealed about the characters
or the location in which the film takes place, a tension begins to build
that increases slowly but steadfastly through the entire film. Even as
the credits roll, the tension still exists. There is no orgasmic action
film payoff. The killing spree doesn't provide any closure or further
explanations. It just stops.
all the kids in this film are non-actors, and their real first names
are used. (Source: The
Internet Movie Database)