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Elephant (HBO)
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on August 3, 2017
Gus Van Sant's "Elephant" offers no excuses, illuminates little but still has the emotional and social wallop of the discharge of a hunting rifle. Set in a high school and inspired by the Columbine shootings of 1999, "Elephant" depicts pieces of a day in the life of several high school students leading up to the penultimate event of the shootings.
The structure of the film is, to say the least, loose: Van Sant jumps forward and back in time so we see the same event from a number of different angles. And it is not until we see a couple of the students armed that we realize that something bad, very bad is going to happen. Van Sant's mise en scene is scattered, brightly light, all formica and vinyl tile and huge dirty windows...lots of windows.
Van Sant builds up a dreadful amount of suspense merely by the piling on of mundane scenes that get more frenzied and out of control by the minute. You know what is going to happen and god help you; you can't wait for it to start just to relieve the tension.
"Elephant" (thusly named because of the psychologically induced big animal sitting in the midst of the high school that no one can nor wants to see) shows us what we don't want to see. It offers no answers. It leaves us stunned, eyes wide, breath short. We are moved to seek answers on our own, to offer consolation to those around us and to ourselves.
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ELEPHANT (2003) is an oddly incomplete movie.

Yes it's interesting to see this one school day from several points of views and the young actors are all very good, yet there's some real flaws here.

For one, the two shooters casually wander the halls and pick off victims at random. An awful lot of time passes during their stalk and the police never arrive. Is this at all possible in an age of cellphones?

What are the motivations of the dark-haired killer? We know he practices Beethoven sonatas and watches Hitler documentaries and that he and his friend briefly experiment with each other in the shower, but what has made him such a sociopath? Obviously, in a 90 minute film you can't go into too much depth on every character's life, but shouldn't more focus have been placed on events that led to bomb and weapons stockpiling and assault plans carried out with deadly results?

Then, the story has no resolution. (SPOILERS AHEAD)

The two boys reunite in the cafeteria after their individual killing sprees. One shoots the other at point-blank range, then searches the kitchen's walk-in freezer, corners a young couple and plays eeny-meenie-miney-moe with them as the camera pulls back. Cut to a cloudy sky, roll credits.

That's an ending?

Finally and most importantly, for the vast majority of viewers this film will be accepted as what it is, a depiction of tragedy. Whether such gruesomely unpredictable violence is avoidable can be debated. Of real concern is that a troubled kid may watch this and use it as a primer to launch his own school attack. This is more possible than we perhaps care to accept or imagine.

ELEPHANT is imperfect but is eminently watchable, despite no lessons learned or moral to the story.
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on June 7, 2004
I imagine that this artifact will be studied at film schools as an object of aesthetic and ethical interest. Aesthetically, it reminds us that film is an articfact and that the events depicted are being acted - it does this by creating a semblance of "reality" in the mis en scene for example where a camera follows a number of characters in long tracking shots through the mundane events of an actual high school on a typical high school day, then repeats them from another point of view. This apparently Rashomon technique does not however alter the events in any way. The long tracking shots behind walking students have the dual effect of at first creating some tension along with some irritation that characters rarely actually go anywhere dramatically speaking. The film also raises the question of the effect of tv viewing habits on individuals as one of the killers may have a fascination with Hitler documentaries.
Ethically, the viewer is unable to determine any moral standing by the director except to note that it is apparently very easy to buy guns through the mail in the USA, that bullying may help to turn an individual homicidal, that it is very important, essential, that one has FUN, even when killing one's school mates. One disturbing note is that the two killers are depicted as possibly being homosexual which may undercut a serious point of the film that the killers are in many ways quite ordinary students. Thus is it fair to imply from the film that classical music playing gay students are more prone to go on a killing spree than football playing straight life guards? What was Timothy McVeigh? Thus the ethical question is whether as director of a work one is bound to take a moral stance,and whether by making a pseudo documentary one is excused from doing so.
In short, the film raises lots of intriguing questions and is well worth seeing on that basis alone. The characters in the film are outstandingly believable.
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on December 30, 2015
one of my favorite movies. if you don't have an interest and want an almost real feel on what happened, the. this isn't for you.
for the people who do have an interest in it like myself, this is fantastic.
the DVD itself does skip and freeze in the beginning of the movie but I can deal with it.
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on March 3, 2017
Not a good movie. Very boring and the plot wasn't very good.
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on October 21, 2017
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on December 4, 2017
great movie
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on April 6, 2015
This film is not for everyone. It's not even for most people. The camera drifts, we swivel around and watch minute after minute of the day-to-day goings on of an ordinary high school - only it's about to change a lot.
We watch conversation after idle conversation, often from different perspectives (As I Lay Dying style), sometimes learning more and more about the complexity of these people and sometimes, not.
Things get heavy.
The pressures of life bear down, the issues get worse, things hit their boiling point, the bullets fly, the bodies drop like flies.
This film is not for everyone. There's some really heavy violence, not that Die Hard or Jack Reacher drool. Real violence. Ugly violence. Mean, meaningless violence. One has to keep in mind, this movie was a product of its time. It follows the events it's based on fairly closely. If you can't handle it, sit this one out. But don't come on here, give it one star and whine because you're a middle school teacher and your feelings were hurt. Save that crap for the PTA meeting, or your next meeting with your counselor.
So who do I recommend this movie to?
Fans of: Straw Dogs, Into the Void, American Beauty, David Lynch, maybe American Psycho.
And as that old warning goes, viewer discretion is advised.
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on April 28, 2016
might not be for everyone but it is a good movie
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on June 23, 2005
First off, if I could, I would give this film 4 1/2 lost half a star for the extended periods of silence (only background music) which serve no real purpose other than establishing a "real time" effect.

I recommend this to anyone who is interested by events like Columbine (not the death bit, the happenings behind it...) cuz this is it.

Basically the film follows a handful of students through the same day, and how their paths cross (both knowingly and unknowingly) and eventually come together in a startling ending.

If you are overly sensitized to this topic, having lost anyone to such an event, I wouldn't recommend seeing's very graphic...

But overall, I loved this film since I read the back of the box in Blockbuster...and now I have it to own :)
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