Frost, Eric Deulen, John Robinson
Gus Van Sant
HBO Home Video
Date: May 4, 2004
Review posted: May 17, 2004
Winner of the Palme díOr and Best Director prizes at the
2003 Cannes Film Festival, Elephant takes us inside a
typical American high school, where a seemingly ordinary day is
A car swerves down an idyllic, tree-lined street,
side-swiping a parked car and almost running down a kid on a
bicycle. This is Johnís (John Robinson) ride to school, his
drunken father too inebriated to keep the car moving in a straight
line. John has to take the keys and drive himself. The first act
of Elephant is spent introducing the high school teenagers
and showing us that they all have problems, their own stresses
that they live with day in and day out.
perfectly captures the
banality of the high school experience, the cliques, the classes, the
condescending administrators, all while capturing how, in the lives of
these students, the most trivial is also what matters most. We watch
the day unfold in pieces, getting enough little clues here and there
to know that we are not following any linear path, but rather seeing
events that are happening at the same time. In this way, Elephant
is a masterpiece of form.
know how this day will end, tension builds through the film, even as
we are lulled into the whirlpool of banality that surrounds each of
the characters. We know what is coming, but it is still a shock when
it actually arrives. The cold, dead looks on the faces of the killers
betraying nothing, not even the slightest hint of emotion. When Alex
(Alex Frost) shoots his partner in crime at the end, he is clearly so
far gone that all he sees are moving targets.
When the shooting starts and people start to flee the
school, there is an interesting role reversal when Johnís father
(Timothy Bottoms) comes running up to him. The son is actually
comforting the father, as though he knows something the father does
not. Perhaps that is the final message, if any, that we are to be left
with. Ultimately, though, Elephant is not a film about
messages. We are simply shown life unfolding. The why of it all is up
to us to figure out.
The fullscreen and widescreen presentations are both available on
this disc. The picture comes through crisp and clean. Van Santís
use of color is integral to the film, and everything comes through
here just as it did on the big screen.
Sound is important to this film, telling a good part of the story
and cluing us in as to where in the filmís time sequence we are.
The ambient sounds come through sharply. This is not the film you
would use to benchmark your new home theater system, but the audio
is vital, and the presentation is excellent.
The Theatrical Trailer is hauntingly
beautiful. This is one of the best trailers I have seen in a
long time. It had me hooked from the first viewing.
On the Set
of Elephant Ė Rolling Through Time
(12:00) is a quick, quiet
behind-the-scenes documentary, much in the same mood as the film
itself. We see the filmmakers shooting a scene on the football field,
some of the cast members talk about what violence means to them (one
of them, ironically, too absorbed in a video game to even look at the
camera), and a few quiet moments of Van Sant at the editing table.
Though competently filmed, this documentary gives little insight into
the film. A few words from the director would have been nice,
something about the filmís time structure, whatever ideas he had going
into the project, or the choice to work with non-professional actors.
is a film with an
interesting history (it was supposed to be made right after the
Columbine incident but the financing fell through; Harmony Korine (Kids)
was supposed to write the script but that deal fell through also), and
it would have been nice to hear something directly from Van Sant
himself. What is here is okay, but there is so much more that could
have been explored.
For such a beautiful film, the bonus features are
disappointingly sparse. A directorís commentary would have been nice,
something with more insight into the film. The features here are
decent, but they are lacking in anything beyond superficial interest.
Elephant is the most
important, most controversial youth film since Kids. The filmís
haunting, hypnotic beauty will stay with you long after the credits
have rolled. It should be widely seen. This is also an important work
for anyone interested in cinematic composition. Elephant is a
thematic and technical masterwork.
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