Top positive review
He Lurks Among You
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.