obvious danger for films dealing with violence, not glossy 'bullet-time'
matrix style gunfights, but actual violence where people die, is that
they will be labelled exploitative or sensationalist. Many fall into
that trap; few deal with it as sensitively as Elephant.
film follows the paths of a group of high school students; mingling,
chatting, playing football, all the minutiae of everyday life. Nothing
exceptional happens, giving the film an air of horrible realness,
we are given nothing to suggest that tragedy waits. Long meandering
shots are repeated from each characters perspective and though they
add a haunting quality to the film, they are somewhat overused.
audience are given little chance to get to know the characters,
yet their anonymity doesn't excuse the audience a painful hours
viewing knowing what awaits them. This is a great strength of the
film. Although events like this rarely affecting us directly, the
horror and wastefulness of such killings is not lost on the viewer.
introduction of each character by name is almost like a roll call
and is reminiscent of memorial ceremonies reeling off the names
of the dead.
it's subject the film is less violent than one would imagine, with
the camera cutting away from the action when shots are fired. The
violence that we do see is the climax of the film, the action is
far from glossy and seems frighteningly authentic.
terms of investigating the killers motives Elephant features the
common scapegoats; we see the killers play a violent videogame,
watch a programme about Hitler and kiss each other, however van
Sant, appears to poke fun at the idea that these could be responsible
for teenagers turning to violence. In fact he gives us reasons why
each is alienated and how they deal with it.
Elephant deals sensitively with what is delicate subject matter,
taking considered look at the phenomenon of high school shootings.
The story is told brilliantly with minimal dialogue and provides
a painful anticipation of what is yet to come. Elephant provides
more questions than answers - and this is its crowning strength.