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Thursday 26th February 2004
Elephant
Words: Michael English
Elephant
Elephant
As subject matters go there are few more challenging and daring than the subject of high school shootings.
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The 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.

The 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.

Elephant

The 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.

The 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.

Despite 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.

In 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.

Overall 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.





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