Monday, April 27, 2015

Indie Review: Elephant (2003)

        'Elephant' Is A Grand Haunting Look At Small-Town America

        High school is hell. A lot of us who went to high school and went through the same routine sometimes feel that it is like the eighth circle of Hell. But when you watch this film and what the main characters eventually go through, a mundane day at high school will suddenly feel like a day at the beach.
       Elephant follows the story of several students experiencing a simple day in high school. However, that day suddenly doesn't become so simple once two students concoct a fatal plan to commit a massacre.

       The main thing that I'll discuss is the direction, as well as the writing by Gus Van Sant. One thing about his direction that I loved was how we see the film from the angles of both the victims and the shooters, making the film less one-sided. Not only that, but Van Sant doesn't weave in any judgment into his direction or go deep into the politics of high school or gun control. He just shows us an ordinary day of high school taking a turn for the worse while also leaving subtle hints at the motives behind the killings.

        There are plenty of long tracking shots, including one of one of the shooters being bullied in class, another of the two shooters watching a Hitler documentary, and a first person point of view shot of a shoot-em-up video game being played. There is even a long shot of the two shooters embracing each other, hinting that they might have been isolated for being gay. That is how I personally interpreted it, but anyone else can come up with their own theory. Van Sant never really spoon feeds to the audience what the true motives are. We are left to piece the puzzle ourselves.

       I also want to give points to the cinematographer Harris Savides. In a lot of the long shots taking place in the high school, Savides always films from behind the main actors as if they are in the kind of video game that the shooters play. This creates a rather uneasy feel, even before the fatal climax. But even though the film takes place on a simple day at high school, we still get a glimpse of the struggles and insecurities the students face and based on their traits, as well as how they interact with each other, it all feels authentic.

       Overall, Elephant is an unnerving yet masterfully crafted portrait of violence in small-town America. The direction and writing by Gus Van Sant is no-holds-barred yet incredibly apolitical and without judgment, the cinematography is beautifully shot, and even though there is no real story, it still feels real. Sadly, too real.

       Would I Recommend It?:
       Yes, but with a warning. It is extremely well-made, but its authenticity will likely leave viewers uncomfortable as it hits pretty close to home.

Grade: A+