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CAST:

ALEX - Alex Frost

ELI - Elias McConnell

JOHN - John Robinson

MR. MCFARLAND - Timothy Bottoms

MR. LUCE - Matt Malloy

ERIC - Eric Deulen

JORDAN - Jordan Taylor

CARRIE - Carrie Finklea

NICOLE - Nicole George

BRITTANY - Brittany Mountain

ACADIA - Alicia Miles

MICHELLE - Kristen Hicks

BENNY - Bennie Dixon

NATHAN - Nathan Tyson

GSA TEACHER - Ellis E. Williams

 

CREW:

Director: Gus Van Sant

Screenplay: Gus Van Sant

Producer: Dany Wolf

Executive Producers: Diane Keaton and Bill Robinson

Director of Photography: Harris Savides

Editor: Gus Van Sant

Elephant

Click pic above for official website and trailer

The title comes from the British director Alan Clarke's 1989 rough-and-ready short film of the same name, a tough and dense look at the violence in Northern Ireland, which also didn't paste answers onto the problem. Mr. Clarke's short outraged or absorbed viewers in the way that Mr. Van Sant's movie, which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, is likely to do. (Mr. Clarke's title referred to the aphorism about the elephant in the living room that goes ignored -- a problem that people refuse to face for so long that they are no longer even able to see it.)

This new ''Elephant'' will also confound people looking for solutions or villains, because it doesn't supply them. There's no narrator perched omnisciently over the events, nor the kinds of exaggerated melodramatics and pop music that teen movies employ to insistently nag at emotions. There are few recognizable actors, since Mr. Van Sant populated the movie with kids who had never acted before, heightening the realism and the tension.

 

The above by  ELVIS MITCHELL
Published: October 10, 2003, Friday

From the New York Times Review, a site worth registering on. It’s free

 

Kate’s take on “Elephant”, never a woman to like “answers”...

Micro Study of ‘Elephant’ By Gus Van Sant

 

Analyse of the scene entitled ‘Calm before the Storm’ in terms of the music and mise en scene.

 

The audience are very much ‘kept at a distance’ throughout this film and in this scene as in others they are not being looked after; Van Sant refuses to ‘tell’ us anything he simply shows us.  The scene starts and we see a medium side shot of Eric playing ‘Moonlight Sonata’ and ‘Fur Elise’ by Beethoven on the piano; we stay and watch him for a long time.  This is the first time we see Eric in his home environment alone and the gracefulness of his music seems to be showing the audience a side to Eric that the audience is unaware of.  Next we hear a knock at the window above Eric, showing the audience that Eric’s room is right at the bottom of his house.  Perhaps Gus Van Sant situated the room right at the bottom to show two things firstly how his parents don’t know what’s down there; he is secluded from the rest of the world or secondly to connote hell and how evil comes from below.  The knock from the window comes from Alex, Eric’s friend and accomplice.  Eric continues to play.

 

The camera then goes on to a pan of Eric’s room, revealing his talent at drawing as there are many sketches pinned up around the walls.  The audience is now really starting to see that Eric is a talented young man, he is not only a talented musician but he is also quite obviously a talented artist.  Van Sant seems to be showing the audience that Eric is quite an intelligent, sophisticated and sensitive young man.  This is done in the film ‘Silence of The Lambs’, the director, Jonathan Demme shows Hannibal Lecter as a very sensitive intellectual man, he listens to Bach and produces a very good artistic portrait of Starling, yet we know that he is a horrific serial killer.  The panning of Eric’s room is also used in Silence of the Lambs when we are shown a pan of Lecter’s prison cell; we are getting to know the killer and the mind behind them.  The audience is expected to read the mise en scene.

 

We the audience are shown his laptop among other normal things found in a teenage boy’s room.  We are then shown two large camo bags; they are strategically put there amongst the rest of his things. I think the bags are there amongst all that normality, to almost say that this boy can be normal, he likes to draw he’s a fine piano player but yes, he shoots up his own school.  I think this is to get the audience thinking that the people who do these things aren’t that different from the people you know and they are within our society and they are certainly not drug crazed psychopathic ‘monsters’.

 

The camera cuts back to Eric continuing to play the piano.  The panning round the room begins again and reveals Alex standing at the door, he greets Eric, but Eric doesn’t look up, however the music he is playing does change theme.  The camera continues to pan, giving the audience a closer look in to Eric’s life.  It seems to me that as Van Sant does this he is offering the audience clues and enjoys giving the audience ideas to the boy’s possible motives.  We are as an audience expected to be rather like Sherlock Holmes the great ‘signs and meanings’ detective.  There is then a cut to look over Eric’s shoulder as he continues to play, his music is seamless and his ability is considerable.  The fact that he hasn’t moved to talk to his friend or even stopped playing could connote one of two things, either he is so lost in his own world and his music that he hardly notices his friend or Eric and Alex’s relationship could be quite one sided.  As we see after the massacre Eric shoots Alex, does this mean that Eric used Alex all along, and this early sign of ignorance is a clue to what happens later?  It seems it is important to notice minor details in this film as they might help the audience to with unanswered questions later in the film.

 

 For many people in the audience Van Sant’s method can be extremely frustrating.  As spectators to the film we are in the habit of getting a point of view and this film runs counter to all expectations and that has consequences as the film goes on, leaving some people very angry.  All the unanswered questions that Van Sant leaves for the audience to answer can cause conflicting views amongst the audience as to why Van Sant creates certain ideas.  Some people find Van Sant’s method of offering multiple reasons quite ridiculous, whereas I find it quite refreshing that this massacre is not being put down to one evil, for example just computer games, or just music.  This method that Van Sant uses, for me is much more authentic, and true to life because I see it as very narrow minded to put a mass murder by a teenage boy down to the fact that he plays on a computer game, which has been done many times before.  There are more factors to be considered and Van Sant does this superbly, because after all, aren’t most events in life multi factorial in origin.

 

 The camera then move to a side close up of Eric and then begin to pan around the room for the last time.  The camera reaches Alex who is sitting on the bed with the laptop on his knee.  The camera then begins a slow close up Alex and just before we reach him there is a cut to what he is seeing on the screen, and a computer game is being played out to the audience.  The game consists of the player playing the part of a killer and shooting, unsuspecting, unarmed people walking in a desert.  Again I think that Van Sant has used the computer game to raise questions without actually saying that this could influence these boys.  He seems to be avoiding offering anything as a reason, making the audience work hard at making their own mind up.

 

The camera cuts again to the back of Eric’s head as he finishes playing his piece; he gets frustrated, gets it wrong and then sticks his fingers up at the music.  He then turns to sit on the couch, where Alex is now sat and is reading.  ‘’That Sucked’’ Alex says to Eric who retorts by pushing him jokingly.  The way that the boys communicate with each other is very normal; they don’t seem weird or angry, or nervous about what they are planning to do the next day.  But perhaps Van Sant has them seemingly at ease, because the thought of the next day’s activities puts them at ease, as if this is what they have been waiting for.  Eric grabs the laptop and the camera cuts again to the computer screen to reveal him accessing ‘GUNS USA’, and the ease at which these boys are able to get these guns raises further questions for the audience, if these boys didn’t have easy access to weapons, would tragedies like this still happen?, again Van Sant doesn’t supply an answer he just helps to raise questions.

 

 Both music and Mise en Scene raises questions and idea not just in this scene but throughout the whole film.  Van Sant puts forward solutions and reasons for why these tragedies happen, but doesn’t feel like he has to put it down to one thing and leaves it up to the audience to think for themselves.  We are being shown not told, so keeping our eyes peeled is important as is listening out to the music, as it seems to give the film an interesting twist and shows to us sides of the killer that we would never be told about in the news.  Van Sant had obvious ideas when making this film and this is shown by him refusing to use a piece of cinema as entertainment.  ‘Calm before the Storm’ is a scene which offers the audience a chance to make associations and assumptions for themselves without the director imposing ideas on them and the ultimate effect for the members of the audience is enigmatic, but compelling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emilie Sanderson’s As micro “take” on a section of “Elephant” The WJEC assessed this as an A at As

Most of our ideas about American high-schools come from their representation both as setting and source of character types and stereotypes in mainstream American movies.

 

These films usually target teen audiences who look to them for entertainment, escapism and perhaps identification.

Elephant,  directed by Gus Van Sant is very different from this mainstream of movies. It was made  on a small budget and created using largely amateur, or certainly un established actors and these two features alone impact upon the representations.

His visual style is very much documentary in feel, with long tracking shots often following behind actors, actors walking out of focus, and out of shot on occasion, and a very slow  editing pace. All of which gives the audience not only a sense that we're watching reality but also the impression that much of the everyday life of a high-school is a tedious trailing of long corridors.

 

As Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun Times) comments, few, if any, of the students seem to be having any fun. This is an issue which is deeply relevant given the killer’s comment  to his accomplice, “Have fun, man.”

For most of the film we are presented with dialogue that borders on the banal, a couple make arrangements, a discussion group debates whether we can tell if someone is gay  just by looking, more of this later, three girls debate the calorific content of salad dressing, all of which is presented to us as the norm, an average day in an average school.

 

The characters are sufficiently like the stereotypes we have encountered in mainstream films for us to assume that these characters are indeed intended to be types: Michelle, is a typical geek, she wears glasses, won't wear shorts and is associated with books since she works in the library, the lunch queue girls hang out as a threesome and used teen cliches about, being of their for each other, they go to the mall in their spare time and see themselves as popular.

The boys too are typed, we see jocks and an  arty photographer.

 

Towards the end of the film this playfulness with stereotypes is most effective when we meet Benny.  He is first introduced at that time of crisis, just when we're beginning to wonder how the violence will be resolved. He is tall, of athletic build, good looking and black. He is costumed in  tracksuit bottoms and a vibrant yellow vest, so beloved of the action hero.

The audience see him prowl the corridor looking to discover what is going on rather than seeking to escape it. He helps a fellow, white girl, student to climb away from harm  out of the window and is presented very much like a decent, modern action hero, our expectations of an Afro Caribbean youth from other film portrayals is that he will probably have a gun and we also expect that racist stereotypes will be subverted by him using his gun to stop the violence. Van Sant is not interested, it seems, in re-creating the action of action movies, he is representing violence that is far more mundane, far more arbitrary.  

 

Our supposed hero no sooner encounters the least  dominant of the two killers than he  is immediately shot dead. This, running counter to audience expectations, is both shocking and effective. Van Sant is perhaps suggesting that we cannot judge his high-school by our past  cinema-going experiences. Just like that teens in the tutorial debate  struggle with reading the signs that suggests someone may be gay, the audience  struggle  to adapt to seeing  teen stereotypes getting blown away both literally and metaphorically.

 

The violence isn’t glorified, glamourised nor even lingered over for pity.  Van Sant’s slow motion moments are saved not for bullet time but rather for girls eyeing-up a boy on the corridor, or a boy playing with a leaping dog just outside school.  Small scale, seemingly random events that only take on significance with the hindsight that every moment within the day has become significant because paradoxically this is not a ‘typical’ day.

 

If Van Sant is creating a representation of a high-school that differs from those in mainstream films, he is also representing the students who commit violent acts in American high-school as as being more complex than the usual post-Columbine media stories suggest.

Primed up by the news media's obsession with looking for reasons, of asking why?  we tend to watch the film like news hounds, detectives and social-workers  seeking evidence of what motivates the killing. Here too  Van Sant's response is complex. He does not so much say there was no reason, these boys are just plain evil, instead he shows a range of evidence and contradictory evidence all of which only serves to undermine the very idea of such a search being simple or even meaningful.

 

The boys perhaps engage in a sort of mutual madness, however, other characters ‘hang out’ without being led astray.  One of the killers is bullied, but then so is Michelle and she doesn't resort to violence. They may be gay, we do see them engage in one kiss in the shower, but it may have been a first, and an act of experimentation.

 

We do not see its consequences and besides we have, ironically, assumed some of those present at the tutorial discussing gay issues are also gay and they are not violent. We see them playing violent computer games, but also reading a book and playing the piano, is van Sant suggesting that highbrow pursuits are as likely to lead  to frustration and violence as the games that the media usually singles out for criticism?

 

Certainly we see the pianist give Beethoven the finger when he plays some wrong notes, likewise, we could blame the Internet and access to the guns, but Elias has access to guns, he goes hunting, he also has a drunken father, none of which is sufficient to spur him into violence.

 

The killers, by contrast, seem to have a a fairly stable family background, certainly a mom who bakes pancakes and cares. The boys watch a documentary on Hitler’s Germany, but Van Sant has been careful to place pumpkins,  those symbols of America's Halloween, on top of the television.  He is perhaps suggesting that American  traditions and festivals are as likely to have as much bearing on the boys as historic events.

 

The structure of the film: broken up into sequences named after characters, with scenes repeated from differing perspectives, and interweaving plots returning to re-examine the minutiae of the day, seems to reflect the human response to being directly involved in tragic events.  We revisit the moment and share our experiences with other witnesses hoping to arrive at a fuller picture and a sense of our own part in the complete whole.

 

The film ultimately denies easy answers and many of us are much perplexed by this apparent failure to grant the closure of an readily discernible ‘culprit’. None of the usual generic or media narratives have been applied. We met the stereotypes but they were not put through their usual paces. The film's end is a huge frustration for some and many spectators feel cheated when the film just stops.

 

The film cannot be filed away mentally or, even more alarming cannot be agreed or disagreed with.

 

It painfully challenges our dependence on generic structures, the all too neat packaging of reality which smoothes the jagged edges of all our daily lives.

 

This is what makes it an unsettling and, perhaps, a great film.

 

Kate Symons.

27-09-2006