Elephant (2003) dir. Gus Van Sant

“ Yeah, you did, and I should shoot you right now for it, you know I should. But I think I just might let you live, maybe, because I want you to know this… and the next kids that come up to you with their problems… that they’re being picked on, you should listen to them… no matter what twisted shit they say.”

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2003, American, Drama

Elephant is Gus van Sant’s masterpiece, loosely based on the Columbine shooting. The film moves at a very slow pace, with the camera following characters as they walk across fields, down hallways and sidewalks. The viewer understands more about every character by the looks on their faces, in silence, than by any dialogue scene. This creates an amount of sympathy and dread, seeing as everyone knows how this one ends. And the finale is brutal and unrelenting, yet not exploitative and still extremely sensitive. Characters you’ve sympathized with for the entire film are blown away in seconds, sometimes even just in the blurred-out background. This is a difficult watch, and not for the sensitive viewer. Altogether, Elephant doesn’t have much to say about school shootings, violence in the media, or the lack of help for kids who need it. What it does provide is a piece of moving poetry, an extremely atmospheric and gripping character piece, and a reflection on how quickly a standard day can go to hell. And the finale shows the once-thriving school as just that, hell, with flames ravaging the hallways, bodies and rubble everywhere. 5/5