Hurrah, I have finally seen Elephant, Gus Van Sant’s award-winning 2003 film based on the Columbine school shootup. If I’d written this post last night, it would have been passionate, maybe all caps. I was a little stoned. Today, I am still inclined to post on it, but with the knowledge gained overnight that it hasn’t had the impact on me that I originally thought it had.
Strangely, I think both the immediate impact and its rapid dissipation come from the same feature of the film’s design: shallowness. Watching the slaughter of characters you’ve been getting to know for an hour or so is called Everynight TV, right? The reason you can yawn around between that and decorating and dancing shows, at the same time as you’re in IM on your laptop, is the artifice. You can recognize a Benz from the grill, and you can recognize a cop show from the music, cinematography and script cliches. You can only be so drawn into those stories, when you are constantly aware it’s Season 4 Episode 9. With Elephant, however, Van Sant presents you an unrecognizable scenario, in part by working improv with non-actors. But also by withholding dramatic devices which could be recognized as tropes: character arc, plot progression. The parts of your mind that normally turn off once they recognize the tropes, don’t turn off. You are observing more keenly. When the shit hits, you feel it more. Thing is, you developed no relationships, and you contemplated few or no concepts, so it doesn’t stay with you, like, in your heart. It stays in your brain as a masterful cinematic exercise, certainly. But you are untouched, ultimately, once the shock wears off.
And here is Gus Van Sant cutting the bugger on a FLATBED EDITOR. Divine.