Elephant

"Weak"

Elephant Review


This year's Cannes-winning, observational drama-commentary about the violence-deadened soul of America, Gus Van Sant's "Elephant" was clearly inspired by the 1999 student massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. -- although "inspired" may be a poor choice of words. The film has so little to say about such events and the culture which produces them that it becomes paradoxically tedious once the killing starts.

Structured like verses in a round, overlapping in time, Van Sant's verite camera follows, one-by-one, a handful of seemingly unremarkable kids (the director cast mostly non-actors) going through the paces of a seemingly unremarkable day in lengthy tracking shots that become strangely intimate and engrossing in their moment-by-moment normalcy.

A nerdy girl is hassled by her gym coach for wearing sweats instead of shorts. A jock throws wads of paper at a quiet boy in class for no discernable reason. A bulimia squad of catty Barbies gossips over lunch before, in a sarcastic touch of dark humor, giggling their way into the bathroom and taking side-by-side stalls in which to upchuck what they just ate.

But in each story there's a tinge of foreboding because of the first student "Elephant" follows. John (John Robinson), a soft-spoken cool kid frustrated with his drunk dad driving him to school late every day, is caught crying by his girlfriend when he thought he was alone -- and through a chain reaction of events he becomes the one person warned away before the attack on the school.

"Just get the f**k out of here and don't come back," says one of the camo-clad shooters as they march toward the school, weighted down by duffle bags full of guns.

As the film's storylines fold in on themselves, you see the two killers in the backgrounds of other scenes again and again, never knowing if this snippet of time will be the one in which the shooting starts. The technique packs the film with early tension, which is curiously eased when writer-director Van Sant switches gears to follow the shooters through afternoons of playing violent video games and watching Hitler documentaries (an ironic satire of the motive over-simplification that always follows such shootings) while acquiring the last of their guns in scenes that defy the kind of backstory to which more conventional directors would surely conform.

But when it all comes together in matter-of-fact scenes of bluntly unemotional bloodshed, "Elephant" suddenly seems as hollow as its default antagonists. While this may be Van Sant's very point -- that such acts of violence are empty and meaningless without looking at the conditions under which they take place -- the fact that he makes no attempt to explore those conditions himself makes the movie meaningless too.

The film is not compelling or insightful; it simply bears witness. But even that doesn't stop the director from sensationalizing the story with a pointless scene of the two shooters sharing a naked homosexual kiss. Those who know Van Sant is gay himself will realize that there's no association implied to the shootings here, so what's he going for here -- controversy for controversy's sake?



Facts and Figures

Run time: 81 mins

In Theaters: Friday 3rd October 2003

Box Office USA: $1.2M

Box Office Worldwide: $10M

Budget: $3M

Distributed by: Fine Line Features

Production compaines: HBO Films, Fearmakers Studios

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 72%
Fresh: 113 Rotten: 43

IMDB: 7.2 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Alex, as Eric, as John McFarland, as Elias, as Jordan, as Carrie, Nicole George as Nicole, Brittany Mountain as Brittany, Alicia Miles as Acadia, Kristen Hicks as Michelle, Bennie Dixon as Benny, Nathan Tyson as Nathan, as Mr. McFarland, as Mr. Luce, Chantelle Chriestenson Nelson as Noelle, Larry Laverty as Teacher #3

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

Contactmusic 2017 Exclusive

New Movies

Life Movie Review

Life Movie Review

Like a mash-up of Alien and Gravity, this ripping sci-fi horror movie is very effective...

The Lost City of Z Movie Review

The Lost City of Z Movie Review

Based on a true story, it's the historical aspect of these events that holds the...

Chips Movie Review

Chips Movie Review

It's clear from the very start that this movie has little to do with the...

Beauty And The Beast Movie Review

Beauty And The Beast Movie Review

This remake of Disney's 1991 classic is remarkably faithful, using present-day digital animation effects to...

The Salesman Movie Review

The Salesman Movie Review

Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi won his second Oscar with this astute drama which, like 2011's...

Get Out Movie Review

Get Out Movie Review

Leave it to a comedian to make one of the scariest movies in recent memory....

Personal Shopper Movie Review

Personal Shopper Movie Review

After winning a series of major awards for her role in Olivier Assayas' Clouds of...

Advertisement
Certain Women Movie Review

Certain Women Movie Review

In films like Wendy and Lucy and Meek's Cutoff, writer-director Kelly Reichardt has told sharply...

Kong: Skull Island Movie Review

Kong: Skull Island Movie Review

After the success of 2014's Godzilla reboot, the Warner Bros monsters get their own franchise,...

Viceroy's House Movie Review

Viceroy's House Movie Review

Filmmaker Gurinder Chada (Bend It Like Beckham) draws on her own family history to explore...

Trespass Against Us Movie Review

Trespass Against Us Movie Review

With an extra dose of attitude and energy, this Irish comedy-drama hits us like a...

Logan Movie Review

Logan Movie Review

Hugh Jackman returns to his signature role one last time (so he says), reuniting with...

Patriots Day Movie Review

Patriots Day Movie Review

The third time's a charm for Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg, who previously teamed...

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

It's no surprise that this creep-out horror thriller is packed with whizzy visual invention, since...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.