Gus Van Sant's award-winning Elephant is a pretty-much-pointless look at youth and violence, following several youngsters (mostly non-actors) through a school day marred by a Columbine-style shooting. The message is that violence is, like, A BAD THING, while the explanations offered for the bloodshed are so banal that the writer-director could be taking the mickey out of media attempts to make sense of slaughter. Whatever: it isn't interesting.
Filmed in long, unhurried takes, intercut with occasional glimpses of a cloud-flecked sky (to say what? Life goes on? Isn't blue pretty?), one thing this ponderous picture captures well is the unutterable tedium of (some) school days. Only 81 minutes long, it feels filmed in real time, with improvised conversations devoid of any of the snap, crackle or pop-culture of the usual American 'yoof' movie fare. This may appeal to the more thoughtful among you, happy to accept what is presumably supposed to be unadorned 'reality'. But there is nothing real here: no heart, no soul. American Pie is more perceptive.
"HARDLY HOLDS THE ATTENTION"
The film's violence is presented in similar, anti-sensational fashion. Flat, drab and devoid of glamour. This is admirable, in a sense, as anyone who's seen even fisticuffs firsthand can attest it's usually not the slick, exciting process often seen on screen. But it hardly holds the attention. And the pared-back, faux-naturalism merely makes it hard to care about anyone when the inevitable attack finally occurs. The characters aren't so much flesh and blood as moving objects in an austere art installation - figures for the camera to fetishize, but never understand.
The killers (Alex Frost and Eric Deulen) are shown watching Hitler on TV, ordering guns online, playing gory videogames, and - oh, no! - kissing each other. Perhaps the director is trying to show his contempt for the so-called causes of school slayings, but he merely shows contempt for his 'characters' - and by extension the victims whose lives he is supposed to be exploring. Elephant is pseudo-important posturing without either original thought or the excitement of an unashamed exploitation movie. Memo to Gus: don't shoot.