Monday, 21 May 2007
Elephant (2003) dir by Gus Van Zant
Starring: Alex Frost, John Robinson and Carrie Finklea
Guest Review by Blair Stewart
This film is a brave ship cutting through rough, unknown waters. Gus Van Zant’s “Elephant” approaches the daunting subject of American school shootings as a meditation of cause and effect and for its objectivity it walked away with the 2003 Palme D’Or at Cannes only to be forgotten promptly upon its Stateside arrival.
Dovetailing appropriately from Alan’s recent praise of Bela Tarr’s work and the great long-takes in cinema, as the camera prowls the hallways of a nondescript high school, devoid of mood music or other dramatic histrionics, we see from multiple points-of-view the buildup to a massacre. Cast entirely with expressive non-actors improvising their dialogue and performances, a loose plotline emerges.
The shade of blue that cinematographer Harris Savides captures is awesome, and combined with crisp autumn colors, “Elephant” becomes a rare commodity that moves beyond docudrama and into dreamscape. Edits are rare, allowing us time to observe the vulnerability of these children in their routines, including the young killers, as we closely follow them down their respective paths. After establishing such youthful archetypes of the Sensitive Kid, the Awkward Nerd and the Budding Artist the film slides over into the orbit of the killers, where Van Zant wisely doesn’t provide us with a central reason or damnation as to why two kids would decide to commit extreme depravity, but a multitude of broad influences that could possibly have lead to its terrible conclusion.
The latter scenes project a profound sense of dread, especially the target practice in the garage. The scene is utterly terrifying on an aural level alone. Regardless, this is also an intensely beautiful work of cinema verite - capturing youth in the moment, as its poster, (my favorite movie poster) can attest to above.
With this middle part of his ‘Death Trilogy’, alongside the hypnotic “Gerry” and “Last Days”, Gus Van Zant becomes an even more admirable figure in American cinema. Emerging from the 80’s gay indie scene of “Drugstore Cowboy” to achieving mid-90’s mainstream success with “Good Will Hunting”, his track record, like Richard Linklater and David Lynch, has allowed him his own niche for small-scale artistic endeavors. “Elephant” is a result of that freedom and Van Sant shouldn’t look back, just keep on going.
Buy it here: Elephant