Gus Van Sant's "Elephant" at DVinfo.net

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Old October 1st, 2003, 11:53 AM   #1
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Gus Van Sant's "Elephant"

I just saw this last night at the Vancouver International Film Festival and judging from the other reviews I've read, not a lot of people have really understood it. Now I'm wondering if I have, because my opinion seems out of whack with a lot of other reviews.

This is the film about the lives of teenagers at a high school the day two of them precipitate a "Columbine"-like massacre.

In a word, the thesis of this film is brilliant. It took me almost until the end and I stared at the credits before I felt that I 'got it' and got the overwhelming feeling of how genius this film was. It was a strange experience because throughout the feeling I was second-guessing Gus Van Sant and wondering what in a world he was about. But then, like I said, I got it.

It's in the title.

Anyone else seen it?

Obviously, *spoilers* from now on.
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Old October 1st, 2003, 06:50 PM   #2
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I didn't get a chance to see it but I'm amazed it won the Palme d'Or against Dogville, which I did see. It must be really something...

I understand it was shot on DV...
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Old October 2nd, 2003, 10:35 AM   #3
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I have the new American Cinematographer and in it they have a good article.

They did used minidv for runthroughs. but they shot the film on an Arricam ST & LT w/ Zeiss Superspeed lenses.

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Old October 2nd, 2003, 11:09 AM   #4
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The style of "Elephant" would have lent itself well to MiniDV but I'm glad that he chose to shoot on film. It's a good looking film.
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Old June 3rd, 2004, 01:43 AM   #5
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Keith, can you explain Elephant to me now? I finally rented it.

I hunted down your review on your web site, but it was vague as well.
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Old June 3rd, 2004, 11:54 AM   #6
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I purposely didn't show anything in that review because I wanted people to see it and then come away with their own conclusion.

Let me see if I remember what I thought.

I thought that the film was like the story of the parts of the elephant. Everyone who went to it is expecting some sort of "After School Special" or rote explanation as to why this incident happened. But in fact, it is a film with a bunch of red herrings and no *one* explanation. In fact you don't even know who the prepetrators are until 20 minutes into the movie. At first you are following the blonde boy and you are thinking, what is it about his life that might make him want to take out a gun and kill people (before you realize that he isn't going to be the killer). In the opening scene, it looks like he might have some home life issues but then it turns out that his dad is the nice kind of drunk. And then it may be that the boy has trouble with his principal because he is misunderstood, but even that doesn't amount to anything. Later on, he is crying ... but he even admits it is for no reason!

Each 'explanation' is delivered like this. From the jocks, to the homosexuality, to thevideo games to the availability of guns to the cliques. If this was an "After School Special", you want to be TOLD, you demand to be told why such a horrific massacre occured. In fact, you are struck by the banality (and sometimes the beauty) of this one day in the life of the school before the inexplicable happens. This is an anti-drama. The formlessless of the narrative is informed in the style. The long cuts, the speed shifts, the endless wandering, characters swimming in and out. The audience, because they have already absorbed the language of the narrative (the formula of the After School Special, for example), should be totally struck by how different this is.

There is no hero, for example. Remember the character of the black boy. Near the end, we follow this boy as he is witnessing people running away, seeing dead bodies, and then you wonder .. in the stereotype, this boy should be expected to do something heroic. He comes up on the principal on his knees before the killer. He comes up behind them. In the standard narrative, he will do something heroic. Instead, BANG, that's it.

In the final scene the last killer is picking and choosing who he kills between the jock and his girlfriend. I believe it was eeinie meenie mino mo .. It was just picking and choosing. I think it was the same way here, you can't make sense of the reasoning. Pick any or all of those reasons.

Elephant is as much about the audience as it is about the people on the screen. Why would you go to a film (or watch an After School Special) to be told why Klebold and Harris did what they did? Why would you expect to be given one reason why they perpetrated such a horror.

When they are hanging out together (the two killers in the movie), they watch the documentary about Hitler without even knowing who he is. In the shower they kiss for the first time as an experiment. Their home life actually doesn't even seem out of the ordinary. They are bored by the game they are playing. Each of these reasons is thrown out without any particular weight. In the wake of the Columbine massacre all of these reasons were bandied about in the press and each group had some pet issue they could rally behind. Each group said: "if only [GUNS / CLIQUES / GOTHS] could be 'fixed' then we could stop these things from happening. And then people go to a movie expecting some grand answer to the inexplicable.
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Old June 3rd, 2004, 12:31 PM   #7
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Ah, "Seven Blind Mice." Actually, I'd never heard that Indian fable before Googling it just now.
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Old June 3rd, 2004, 12:35 PM   #8
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The parts of the elephant is just my own pet theory. Later on in interviews Van Sant said that the elephant in the title referred to the elephant in the living room metaphor (the problem that you don't want to confront). To me it is more of the old story of the parts of the elephant and the blind men. Where each of them is feeling a different part of the elephant and declaring what they thought the animal was without knowing the rest.
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Old June 3rd, 2004, 12:49 PM   #9
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Van Sant's theory about his own movie's title makes no sense.

I like your theory, but there's a problem with it. None of the "mice" live to tell their side of the story, except for John and Acadia.

I thought the movie's strong point was its acting--top rate across the board. I think we'll see a lot of young stars coming out of this film. (Interesting that almost all their character names were just taken from their real names.)

I think there must have been more "perspectives" that were cut. Who was the office worker who was greeted with the surprise party? And who was the girl in the cafeteria whose singing was insulted? Etc.
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Old June 3rd, 2004, 01:26 PM   #10
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The Three Blind Men and the Elephant

I don't remember the mice part of that story.

This is the story I was referring to:

http://www.wordfocus.com/word-act-blindmen.html
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Old June 3rd, 2004, 01:38 PM   #11
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Thanks! (There are six men in that version.)
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Old June 3rd, 2004, 01:43 PM   #12
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It keeps on growing!
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Old June 5th, 2004, 12:52 PM   #13
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I saw Elephant recently, and did not care for it, did not "get" it. It isn't that it was confusing or "weird", or that it lacked normal commercial conventions that I secretly pine for. It's following of different perspectives during the relatively same moment in time was...nicely done, not original.
The acting was not that great. Some of them were clearly trying not to look at the camera while being tracked . The everyday pitter patter between teens was often forced and too..."atypical". I don't know...I found the fake "reality" difficult to stomach.

The film was GORGEOUS to look at.

I'm interested in others' ideas about this film. From where I stand now, Elephant was a wasted effort. But perhaps this film is not for me. Perhaps it's "unusual" qualities will have greater impact on those closer to commercial cinema (the Saturday Afternoon Special crowd, as you say). Will read around.
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Old June 5th, 2004, 03:37 PM   #14
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<<<-- Originally posted by Shawn Mielke :....
The acting was not that great. Some of them were clearly trying not to look at the camera while being tracked ... -->>>

About the acting, If Iīm not mistaken, they didnīt use real actors. The kids were just average kids with no previous acting experience. Keeping this in mind, I think they did great..

Actually I prefer this kind of acting, to that of Overacted lame second (or first) line actors that are suppossed to be pros. (Not going to mention any names.. but It might be an interesting new thread.... FAMOUS ACTORS THAT YOU CANīT STAND...)...

About Elephant I have to say.. It looks like a greatly done first movie from an outstanding Student or something...
It has "something" that kept me hooked to the movie.. allthough I found it boring...

I donīt think itīs a wasted effort... Itīs just not a movie for everybody.

It has the same effect on me as Wim Wenders films.. they bore me.. but I like to be bored by his films..
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Old June 5th, 2004, 04:34 PM   #15
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You know, I don't think I've seen any Wim Wenders...have I? Will look into it.

Your thoughts interest me, Fed. Maybe it's that I haven't enough context in order to properly...deal with this film. As I said, I'm open to insight, or try to be. I got little out of Mullholand Drive when first I saw it...then read a very thoughtful essay on it (Film Quarterly), and, while still don't feel that it's masterful cinema, understood and felt Lynch's vision much more dearly.
I retract my words, "wasted effort", if that is possible. I'm not actually ready to feel that strongly about Elephant.
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