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Elephant: never forget

An early scene in Elephant depicts a young photography student asking two punked-out teens for their permission to be observed by his camera. In what could have resulted in a flurry of "fuck off's" and a lens dripping with spit, the photographer's disarming demeanor puts the two at ease, allowing him to capture the love underneath their shell of leather. Off camera somewhere, Gus Van Sant quietly nods in approval of his young student's practice of this technique.

I am in the fortunate position of reviewing this movie relatively late in the game, absorbing as many negative reviews as possible in order to dismiss them all in one lethal review. But alas, that is not my style. Compassion for the misunderstood and misinformed will be my AK-47. What seems to be the overwhelming negative outcry here is "why?" Why would kids declare war on their school and why would someone film it without telling us why? My answer to these critics is simple. You tell me.

Don't believe that the artistically inclined (or financially backed) are the only ones with enough brain power to solve our social ills. You too may speak up if you feel you have some clue to solve this crisis. I invite all said critics to take a look back at the movie and see if anything pulls the fire alarm of understanding.

Maybe you found yourself coughing and clearing your throat a lot when our little killers watched nazis on TV, played violent first person shooter video games, and ordered machine guns over the internet? So there you have it guys! You have unknowingly provided yourself with your own answers, with a little assistance from me of course. Good job, you may now leave this imaginary theater and carry with you a new heightened sense of self-esteem.

Now for those who have yet to see this movie, let me ask you this: "Do you like to be told what to feel?" If you need Michael Moore to pull a bullet out of a Happy Meal to understand McDonald's sucks, than don't bother. A cast made of regular high school kids play out an improvisational script centered around a high school massacre similar to Columbine. Elephant is a series of long, carefully constructed scenes that allow the viewer to be absorbed in the film while we ponder the expirience. What I experienced was a mixture between empathy, dread, and respect.

The movie follows a select few students as they attend a generic suburban high school. Timelines from these characters intertwine near the last minutes leading up to the shooting. The dialogue is very realistic and the non-actors make it even easier to believe the performances. Even though you already know what awaits and Van Sant gives you more than ample time to accept this, the movie's impact is unstoppable, hence the title. Well that's what I'd like to believe anyway and I'm sticking to it.

I had a unique reaction upon first viewing the Columbine High School shooting as it interrupted regular programming. I'm almost ashamed to say it didn't surprise me, in much the same way some Arab muslims understand the act of terrorism. We don't endorse it , but we understand how it can happen. I'd be lying if I denied the thought of blowing up my school a few times.

Through these students, Van Sant is able to define a nice portion of today's American high school youth. There's the kid with the drunk dad, the girl who never wears shorts, the guy that likes taking his shirt off, the girls that think he's hot, the artsy kid, the girls that hate lunch and the two picked on, pissed off kids. I was in the latter group. The sound of a packed high school cafeteria can evoke hell to some. If your going to make kids stay in school, you need to make it comfortable to attend. That was what I felt was the answer before viewing the movie, but it showed me it's not that simple.

As I hovered over the shoulder of these teenagers through the hypnotic halls and eavesdropped on their conversations I found my self trying figure which ones would cross the paths of Alex and Eric (the killers). I even hoped for some more than others, but found no justice there. I'm just glad that Van Sant allows us to feel these emotions with out insulting the audience¹s intelligence. We must eventually realize that these are mere kids and everyone knows how difficult and strange the world seems during those formative years. Once you accept this you'll see there are no easy answers.To appreciate Elephant we must first accept it for what it is: a beautiful horror movie.

--Joe Kelly




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