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Elephant /

Rated: R

Starring: Elias McConnell, Alex Frost, John Robinson, Eric Deulen, Jordan Taylor

Directed by: Gus Van Sant

Produced by: Dany Wolf, Bill Robinson
Written by: Gus Van Sant
Distributor: Fine Line Features


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Movie Image

The Following is a Capsule Review:

     There’s a real boring aspect to Gus Van Sant’s latest picture, Elephant. The Palm D’Or winner of last year’s Cannes Film Festival chronicles the happenings of a day at a small high school before a school shooting. There are no motives to explain the gunmen’s doings, or rather gunboys’, exemplifying the true randomness of such a situation. Unlike the Columbine-duo, or Santana High School’s Andy Williams, these two kids do not appear to be emotionally tormented. Van Sant introduces them as they buy their guns from a website on the internet; we have no prior knowledge of their lives. The premise may not seem enthralling, or at least it didn’t to me, but the truthful way in which Elephant hits so close to home is undeniably powerful.

     The hypnotic cinematography in Elephant brings a secondary aspect to the film’s enriching style. The hallways of the high school are shown almost entirely from rear views of the dozen-or-so students Van Sant focuses on. We see the day unravel in their eyes; if a peer mutters out a comment about them, and they want to block it out of their mind, the audio is blurred. Some of the characters are susceptible to negative comments from the student body because they’re geeks. Others are known to be open and unpredictable because they popularly romance their partner in public. And some are illusively infatuated with a particular thing or person.

     The last shot in the film is pure genius, a brilliant exercise in tension. The camera is positioned in such a way that we only see the gunman, as he points his weapon at two students, who are out of the viewing space, blocked by a wall. We see their antagonist playing “ee-nee-minee-mo” to determine which one of the two he will shoot. Or at least shoot first. Both probably know what the outcome of the exercise will be, and we can only imagine the thoughts of the soon-to-be-deceased teenager at such a moment. Then again, fifteen years ago we could only imagine that there would ever be a school shooting, too. The subject, and even some of the fictionalized elements of the movie, are becoming to seem more and more like realities everyday. Sure, what Van Sant concocts may be a tad polished, glamorized in a gritty way, but the achievement speaks for itself. One thing’s for sure: the experience is a hell of a lot scarier than hearing stories about this sort of thing on the Daily News. I strongly recommend it.

-Danny, Bucket Reviews (5.18.2004)

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