SPidge Tales

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Elephant, by Gus Van Sant

Elephant, by Gus Van Sant. Movie review by me.

There is an old Hindu legend about six blind men who come upon an elephant. One thought the elephant like a wall, the second like a spear, the third thought it a snake, number four a tree, five a fan, and six thought the elephant like a rope. They bickered and argued over who was right, when each could only experience the elephant from his own perspective. (click here for the poem "The Blind Men and the Elephant: http://www.noogenesis.com/pineapple/blind_men_elephant.html)

Last night, I viewed Gus Van Sant’s 2003 film Elephant. Van Sant is the directory of Good Will Hunting, one of my favorite movies, as well as director of Finding Forrester (for a classic Sean Connery line, go to http://www.yourethemannowdog.com/ and turn the volume up). Elephant is Van Sant’s look at a typical high school day from the eyes of a handful of students, except that it is not a typical day. As an attempt at realism, we do not see “real” actors, but rather, real high school students, told to create their own dialogue, and simply allow the camera to follow them.

We open with a car swerving around the neighborhood before abruptly crash stopping in front blond haired John, to the tune of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata in the background. John makes his obviously drunk father hand over the keys and switch to the passenger seat, so that he may drive himself to school. The camera follows John as he walks around school, leaving behind the background sonata that graced our journey to a day of learning. John’s travels include stopping to pose for Elias, another student and an amateur photographer, receiving a kiss on the cheek from Acadia during a sad moment, and leaving the building as Alex and Eric are about to enter, carrying heavy bags. We receive an ominous sign with Alex’s warning to John, “Get the fuck out and don't come back! Some heavy shit's going down!”

Our next guide is Elias, photographing a gothic couple on his walk to school, developing a roll in water in the school’s lab, and stopping blond haired John, and requesting he pose for some photographs. We also see football star Nathan leave practice, walk down the hall to the notice of three admiring girls, before meeting up with girlfriend Carrie. They have a lot to talk about, and the camera makes sure we witness. There is Michelle, in sadness walking down the hallway, walking by Nathan before he meets up with Carrie. We meet three girls, noticing Nathan walking towards Carrie, disgusted that he is taken. Through the windows we can see John leaving school and Alex and Eric walking toward the doors. The three girls will have lunch and throw up in the bathroom, Michelle will receive a talking to from a teacher about refusing to wear gym class shorts. We see Eric get picked on, and Alex sit at his piano to break the long musical silence in the film with Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Everyone has problems and hurts. Everyone is in emotional flux. We may look upon their problems as petty or small, but to a teenager in transition, small things really can affect one’s emotional well-being. If anything, for those who have forgotten, we are reminded that high school is not an easy time.

From the first frame, we can sense that something seems wrong, even in a seemingly ordinary day. The relatively early glimpse of Alex and Eric alerts us to what will transpire. Yet, our anticipation and angst are never met with an explanation before the final scene of violence erupts. No explanation is given. We do not come to an understanding. In naming his film Elephant, Van Sant could be saying that there is no answer, explanation, or solution to horrendous acts such as these. Like in the parable above, each blind man experiences the elephant from his own perspective. We all see things differently. In order to find a cure, first we must have a correct diagnosis to the illness. What is the “illness” that causes troubled youth to engage in acts of school violence? Van Sant throws his hands up. He does not know. All of the characters we meet have problems, so why did these two end up being the ones? Some of the characters we meet die and some do not, yet we do not see a reason why. We are left with the Moonlight Sonota and no closure.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


7:19 PM  
Anonymous Tara said...

I really liked the movie. I saw it a while ago. I also liked your post. It made me think about the title. Good job. You might have given away too much of the plot though.

10:58 PM  

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