DVD Elephant directed by Gus Van Sant (2003)

08 Jun

Yes, I have a new batch from Surry Hills Library and some overdue reviews of a couple of books from last time as well, but I begin with one I watched tonight. Elephant (official site linked above) is even more disturbing post Virginia Tech. It is actually a very beautiful movie, despite the carnage at the end. It’s also a high school unlike any we see here in Australia; indeed its facilities are better than most universities I know. And yet it is curiously soulless. The movie is about two teen boys who eventually blow away quite a few of their peers. That they are painfully gay, though only partly accepting of it, caused some gay activists to deplore the movie, but I really think such judgements miss the point.*

David Edelstein on Slate wrote:

…After a run of studio movies, Van Sant has been trying to “simplify the apparatus” of filmmaking; for Elephant, he has cited as a model the seemingly real-time documentaries of Frederick Wiseman. But Wiseman’s subjects have holy moments of transparency and radiance, whereas the characters in Elephant are closed-down and inarticulate, mired in their own ordinariness. (The actors improvised their own dialogue, but Van Sant must have chosen to keep it flat.) Apart from the early moments with John and his dad, and the shots of Michelle regarding her own ungainly body in a locker room, these kids are meant to be totally unmemorable. One of the killers makes homosexual overtures to the other, but it isn’t clear if he’s really gay or just desperately needs some human contact. Van Sant might put his camera behind these kids’ heads, but emotionally he’s so detached—and his meanings are so opaque—that he might as well be shooting an ant farm.

Van Sant is trying to do a lot of contradictory—or dialectical—things, and my response was dialectical, too: I admired the hell out of his ambition and his determination to invent a new language for a new kind of horror; yet I at times I wanted throttle him for being so cool, so dissociated, such an aesthete. (Even the title of this movie is cryptic—which is ironic since it’s meant as a reference to the joke about the elephant in the room, that HUGE thing that everyone is insanely ignoring.) Elephant won the top prize at Cannes… Some critics have hailed it as a masterpiece, others regard it as an obscenity. I think it’s a tantalizing collage. You need to complete it in your head—but whether that movie bears any resemblance to the one Van Sant intended is anyone’s guess.

A discussion with Julie Myerson, Tom Paulin and John Tusa follows:

It’s true you need to complete it in your head, but I have to say I was intrigued, and the movie certainly provokes thought. It is so really beautiful and yet so horrible.

Do I recommend it? Yes, if you love movies and are the appropriate age. You may not be all that wiser about events like Columbine and Virginia Tech at the end, but you will sure have a better feel for the context that may have produced them.

The boys are enough to encourage one to visit Oregon though…

And Margaret and David thought? Find out.

* For those who are not averse to shower scenes:

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2 responses to “DVD Elephant directed by Gus Van Sant (2003)

  1. AV

    June 8, 2007 at 9:37 pm

    One of the most disturbing films I’ve seen in recent times, Ninglun. That and Gummo

  2. ninglun

    June 8, 2007 at 10:25 pm

    I’ll have to see if that’s in Surry Hills Library… And they’re free too. Not many things are these days.

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