…in the room. Here’s a set of random thoughts about this movie. And why I’m not sure how I feel about it.

*Elephant is shot like a documentary, giving us very little insight into the character’s psychologies aside from their actions, clothing, who they’re friends with, etc. In other words, how we often judge people IRL–especially in high school. The lack of a musical score in combination with long takes and little-to-no analytic editing (suddenly we just jump to another place) all place the viewer “in the moment” while simultaneously estranging him from the inner psychology of the characters he meets.

*This “documentary” approach is intriguing on the stylistic level, bringing up the time olde film-y question of how real is real? What determines the “reality” of something on camera? These questions are particularly interesting because Elephant is NOT a documentary–rather, it is documentary style applied to a fictional world.

* HOWEVER (and this has always been my big beef with this film) Van Sant places certain pieces of information that allude specifically to the Columbine massacre, while other pieces of information–especially those having to do with the non-shooter characters–are completely fictional. This seems to me to be problematic on a number of levels. Firstly, it means that Van Sant takes a specific interest in the shooters, supplying them with real-life details that the other characters are not awarded. As a result, we gain slightly more insight into/appreciation for the shooters (especially by the end of the film) than the other characters. Secondly, it means that Van Sant makes certain assumptions specifically about the Columbine massacre. This shifts the focus of the film away from being a study of adolescence and into “it bleeds it leads” territory. Van Sant could have easily made the same film, with the same ending (school shooters shoot up a school), but he didn’t.  Instead, he a made a weird, fictionalized-yet-documentary-in-style film ABOUT Columbine itself. And I don’t know what to think about that. Also because it’s hard to tell if the film is self-aware about that stuff…we already got so many fictional accounts of Columbine masquerading as the Truth (newspapers, for one) that perhaps Van Sant is critiquing that stuff. But like I said, it’s hard to tell if he (or the film) are consciously doing that.

*I would also like to point out that it makes high school a sort of high-art melodrama/opera. Which is kind of cool, because it really does provide a lot of insight into how horrible it is to be in high school. But also, again, somewhat questionable in terms of “what are you trying to do with this film?” Especially the end of the film, which is Iwouldn’tbesurprised a reference to Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, but looks and feels like some kind of dooming judgement on the evils of human nature. Which takes it completely beyond Columbine territory, unless you want to think, like the shooters, that everyone in the world is horrible and deserves to die.

Yep. That’s what I have to say on that.