Monday, August 31, 2009

EXPLOSIVE ENCOUNTER: Review of Gus Van Sant's Elephant


Over the past years, we heard frightening reports on school massacres. Disturbingly, the culprits on these massacres are not strangers to the campus but rather young and innocent-looking students. And seriously, such crimes articulate a haunting social reality among the youth. It’s a malaise our society tends to continuously ignored unless damages are made.

Last night, I had the chance to watch a film shelved for the longest time in my room. It’s a film written and directed by Gus Van Sant. It won the ever prestigious 2003 Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Frankly, up to now, the film has created a massive emotional impact on me. Seriously, it’s more frightening than any massacre film I’ve watched over the years.

“Elephant” is a 2003 crime-drama film which best articulates not only the intertwining lives of high school students in one ordinary school day, but powerfully paints the disturbing psychological conditions of the youth which may pedal terrifying and irreversible social actions such as in a massive school shooting or massacres. Symbolically, the film conveys the metaphorically huge and seen reality (as represented by the connotative discourse on the title "Elephant")among the teenage group in our society which we all choose to ignore. With some students being bullied or left out and as parents tend to careless about what their children do, the eruption of a fatal scenario can possibly surface in an alarming grandeur.

With the snippets and the subtleness of the dialogues, the film successfully separately introduces the characters and their emotions which may represent individuals in a society; there’s John who assists his alcoholic father, Elias who is an aspiring photographer, Nathan as a popular lifeguard/football player with his girlfriend Carrie, Michelle as a nerdy girl ashamed of her body and assists in the library, Acadia as a member of the Gay-Straight Alliance and suffers a panic disorder, and Brittany, Jordan and Nicole as the three bulimic teenage girls who squabble with one another. All of them are icons in the film which personal lives meet as the plot progresses. But on top of them, Alex who is bullied by a spitball by his classmates and Eric who is a slacker and close friend of Alex are the two characters which leave the audience a haunting discourse. They are the boys dressed in camouflage who barrage in the campus and fire the massacre.

With the characters natural performance, an angle of homosexuality can be seen on the imageries painted. This is drawn between Alex and Eric. While Alex is taking a shower, Eric enters and kisses him. Eric claims that he has never kissed anyone before. As based on wikipedia, This scene was mildly controversial because it caused some to question whether
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold,the perpetrators of the real life Columbine High School massacre, were sexually involved, even though there is no evidence for this.

Based in part of the 1999 Columbine Highschool, the film is packed with an impressive camerawork which invite the viewers to look closely on the details which are critical in the build up of the tension. Relatively, the film does not only move in a linear order but it breaks dimensions to best showcase the psyche and emotions of the characters in an overlapping time frame. In the end, as the viewers understand the narrative and becomes terrified with the apocalypse, a spine-chilling explosion happens which slaps an ignored and seemingly obvious internal decay among the youth. Overall, the tracking shots and the steady shots depict the untangled narrative which deliberately puts the closure among viewers.

Relatively, the shots do not only convey the activities inside the campus, it also follows the thinking and actions of some students inside their homes. As such, the film reveals Alex and Eric plotting their plan – from purchasing a gun, testing it, and going to the school to execute such attack. On top of that, the two youngsters watch a film on Hitler which may be read as a root of influence on their thinking or identity formation as civilians. All of these happen in a disturbingly democratic society.

Bottomline, what makes the film such a masterpiece is its brave attempt to showcase a reality forming beneath the typical school days as students walk in hall ways, eat in the cafeteria, chit chat to their friends, and proceed with class discussions, which may emerge in an unexpected time. Indeed, the film gives a reality check on a touted free and civil society where students should be reared and guided in an institution called SCHOOL!

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