Elephant is an exceptional drama, directed in 2003 by the genius Gus Van Sant.
The plot is based on real facts, the mass shootings at Columbine High School in April 1999, which has traumatized the United States and the whole world.
It shows how violence can interfere in the life of a typical American High School. It takes place on a school day like any other. Every student goes about his or her business; some play football, others work at the library or stroll in the High School park. Everyone ignores it but a tragic event is going to happen: Eric and Alex, two students, two punch bags bullied by their peers, are preparing a shooting for revenge. The two are fascinated by Nazi ideology, guns and violent video games. They have programmed the attack by making plans with military precision and buying rifles over the Internet.
2 main reasons to see this film?
Well, the point of view is multiplied and very original. There are no main characters. The camera, often behind the characters, follows them through long shots of the interminable High School corridors; the labyrinth of death. They are tracked, as if the danger was imminent. We are like passive witnesses of a tragic event which unfolds inexorably.
The High School seems to be a life-size reconstitution of violent video games: the campus become their battlefield. But Van Sant is not indecent. For example, the presence of the young murderers is often only suggested by the noise of rifles.
In the documentary Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore denounces the danger of violent video games. Here, the main objective isn’t to condemn American society and Van Sant concentrates more on victims and assassins, their little teenagers problems and feelings (bulimia, repressed homosexuality…).
The production is a real masterpiece. To deal with such a subject with real poetic style is a cinematographic lesson = the slow motions and long sequence shots are hypnotic, the flashback and repeated scenes are powerful. As in Mala Noche or Gerry, Van Sant loves to give style effects and some poetry, even in dramatic situations (youngsters facing death).
The rest – and the end – do without commentary. You will just understand why this amazing film won the Gold Palm Award and Best Director Award for Gus Van Sant at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival...