Monday, August 18, 2014

Elephant (2003)

Director: Gus Van Sant
Writer:    Gus Van Sant
Cast:       Elias McConnell, Alex Frost, Eric Deulen

Several ordinary high school students go through their daily routine as two others prepare for something more malevolent.

The film begin as a Gus Van Sant project based on the 1999 Columbine high school massacre but eventually the idea of giving a factual account was dropped. Usually in these kind of films will have us follow either those who do the shooting to give a background on why they did it or follow follow some of those who are affected by it in a deep way with some survival account. Gus Van Sant deliberately doesn't do either of these things and that exactly I think is the only thing he does with this film. Film starts following several set of students though nothing substantial is happening in any of their lives that particular day. As I was getting bored with those deliberately long tracking shots of people going through their routine, the director does a time flipping with which we realize that he is showing what all these guys were doing leading up to the event for which we the audience are prepared for. It is also done in a matter of fact way not exactly giving us a big pay-off when it all comes together. As if he thinks what he doing is too subtle for some viewers, he drives his point deeply by introducing a character Benny during the shootout who is helping others and looking out curiously for the killers only to be shot dead unceremoniously. The ending is also like this with the eventual death of the killer not shown. It is like an exercise on playing with the audience expectations which is good for a single time viewing but that is about it.

The title of the film could be referring to the story several blind men trying to describe an elephant depending on which part they are touching. The title was given as a reference to the BBC short film of the same name, directed by Alan Clarke. In fact Alan Clarke's title was a reference to the phrase 'Elephant in the Room'. Both these interpretations work well for this film anyway. What struck me while watching it was how good the school was in terms of the facilities that they provide for the students. It is a far cry from the situation that we have in Kerala where school means just a bunch of rooms in a building with benches and desks and children getting taught subjects they are not particularly interested in but take it anyways for the job market or to climb the social ladder. It is really a sad fucking situation. If I were to choose subjects for my plus two now, it would be History, Economics and Philosophy.

The other two recent films that deal with similar subject matter have been 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' and 'The Dirties'. The former one concentrates primarily on the killer's mother and it is kind of a continuation of the age old debate of Nature Vs Nurture. 'The Dirties' follow the activities of the killer who is also a cinephile and it deals with the issue of bullying. Both of these films are great and in Elephant there is not much of a point that the director is making which exactly is its point. Only thing I can think of is the easy availability of guns in USA where it seems you can get semi-automatic guns home-delivered. Film won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes which might be just a case of French people taking the mickey of US of A. Farenheit 911 also won it if my memory serves me correctly.

It is a deliberately cold film and is a good one time watch but one feels that the director is just trying too hard to be clever which kind of prevents it from being a great one for me.

Rating: 3/5