(May 2003 - March 2007.) Tama's thoughts on the blogosphere, podcasting, popular culture, digital media and citizen journalism posted from a laptop computer somewhere in Perth's isolated, miniature, urban jungle ...

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Two misunderstood teenage boys clad in black gloves and military fatigues, carrying ominously large duffle bags filled to the brim, walk purposefully into your average American high school. This one scene is all it takes for most people to recall the spate of tragic and violent events epitomised in the Columbine shootings in 1999. Gus Van Sant's amazing new film Elephant is haunted by Columbine, but unlike so many films, Van Sant does pretend to understand. Instead, his film traces the paths of a number of students, all with their own issues and worries. From John (John Robinson), whose alcoholic father is more demanding than most children, to the trio of 'cool' girls -- Brittany, Jordan and Nicole (Brittany Mountain, Jordan Taylor, Nicole George) -- who seem to have it made until the three retreat to the toilets to regurgitate in unison, every teenager in this film is struggling with life. We see the same few hours from the perspective of a number of different characters, each ending at the moment before tragedy strikes. Finally, we meet Alex (Alex Frost) and Eric (Eric Deulen), who are both frequently picked on, but have secretly planned their revenge. They both play video games which simply involve shooting defenceless characters. Perhaps the moment in the film which is most critical of the US system comes when Eric and Alex manage to order high-power firearms over the Internet and have them delivered to their homes. From there, we see the random and gut-wrenchingly realistic execution of dozens of teenagers and their teachers.

Van Sant's films often differ quite widely in quality from the amazing To Die For to the rather schmaltzy Good Will Hunting. Elephant, however, is definitely one of Van Sant's most impressive achievements. The cinematography is exquisite; shots juxtapose everyday moments of beauty with the tragedy of real(istic) lives and horrific deaths. The cast are fresh and mainly unscripted, with all the actors except three completely new to the industry, most still in high school themselves. Van Sant also edited this film, and the familiarity and care with which events unfold packs a lot into this film which is actually very short, running 82 minutes. The result is a very believable, indeed disturbingly believable film which explores ordinary lives and high school shootings without seeking to explain or, for the most part, judge. This is an excellent picture, which will stay with you for a long time.


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