Saturday, May 23, 2009

Day 106: Elephant (2003) - Rank 4.5/5


This is one of the more shocking films I've seen in some time. There are no zombies, no monsters (in the literal sense), and not that much gore, but what is quite unsettling is the climax of the film: a school shooting. While anyone who watches the preview for Gus Van Sant's terrifyingly beautiful piece of work knows that a massacre is destined to occur at some point, it still doesn't prepare you for the realistic manner in which the event is depicted.

The main reason that the massacre catches you off guard so much is due to the fact that the first two-thirds of the film depict your average, humdrum day at a high school. The drudgery of class, the banality of hallway conversations - many of these are captured with impressive 5-10 minute-long tracking shots. The camera typically stays behind the students as they quietly walk through the hallways of the school, giving us a voyeuristic view of the entire proceedings. This style lets the audience into the lives of the students in a unique way, for you begin to feel as if you attend the school. As a result, the climax is all the more unnerving.

Perhaps the darkest element of the film is just the tone of bitter cruelty that surrounds the film. Many of the students are show experiencing miserable days, due to the nastiness of bullies, the indolence of teachers or just the general sense of peer pressure to be someone or something they are not. While some students find escape (one student experiences relief through photography), others experience one defeat after another only to catch a bullet in the end. The film borders on the bleak, because there are no "heroes" that come to the rescue (only one student attempts to sneak up on a shooter and take his gun, but it shot in the head before the camera), and there's no resolution. After all, life isn't always tied into neat, little packages with happy endings. As such, "Elephant" is an unwavering look at the crueler side of life and leaves you pondering the obvious "Why?" long after completion.

Watch the Trailer

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