Elephant' misses it's potential

    he pitch for ‘Elephant’ sounds swell: one of the premier directors of this generation takes on one of the nation’s biggest problems in a film that mimics the events of Columbine. All the anecdotes about the film’s production added to the intrigue. The film was shot in a shutdown high school in Washington and was 95 percent unscripted, and not one of the teenage characters in the film was played by a professional actor. On top of that, it was not shot in a letterbox format but in 4:3 aspect ratio.

    Courtesy of Fine Line Features
    Kissing fools: Two students share an intimate moment in the film “”Elephant.””

    Director Gus Van Sant fidgeted with every traditional aspect of film in making ‘Elephant’ (named after a BBC documentary which felt violence was a huge beast that could no longer be ignored), and in doing so, he ultimately hurt the film’s overall effect. The non-traditional elements of the film detract from what is otherwise a very fair-handed survey of the issue of school violence.

    The eerie detachment that the camera has from those on the screen helps to keep the issue that the film deals with at arm’s length. The film’s greater purpose, more than trying to provide answers, is to say that there are none. ‘Elephant’ tries to capture the mundane elements of everyday high school life and juxtapose them with the extraordinary things that take place in schools like Columbine. It is a very interesting visual experiment and a dangerous chance for a director to take (which is perhaps why he was awarded best director at Cannes), ‘Elephant’ is as intriguing as the hype would suggest, without being as good

    as one might have hoped. A good majority of the film follows single characters for nearly five minutes at a time while they basically do nothing. Walking through hallways, having meaningless conversations, kissing; the length of the shots alongside their lack of action or real dialogue strike the viewer as being very different from any type of action seen on the big screen and reinforce the idea that this film is not trying to say anything dramatically. Unfortunately, the use of non-professional actors and impromptu dialogue made some of the scenes feel too unnatural. While not using a script was meant to make the film feel more real, it had the opposite effect, and at times, ‘Elephant’ comes across as some strange hybrid of reality TV and documentary.

    The obscure timeline accentuated the suspense the audience felt in trying to guess when the inevitable shootings would occur, but it also made it very clear that Van Sant was not trying to tell a story. The film’s radical elements made the brilliant direction seem all the brighter in that it was very clear that all of the genius of the film stemmed from a single source; unfortunately, the genius is ultimately wasted on a film that cannot bear its own weight.

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