“You know there’s other like us out there, too.” – Elephant (2003)

Written by Yara


A few days ago I wrote a review on a movie called 2:37 that is about teenage angst and how we, “mature adults”, tend to ignore it. Now, let’s dive in its predecessor, let’s talk about the Elephant in the room.

This film is a story about an ordinary day at an ordinary American high school. We are gradually introduced the several characters that will be part of this story, literally following their footsteps while they experience an uneventful day of PE, detentions and classes. However, at a certain point, we see things that make us believe that something very bad and out of the ordinary is about to happen.

Curious? I’ll give you a hint.
Using fiction as a support, Gus Van Sant exposes the cracks in one the most perpetrated and idealized aspects of the American Dream: the American high school system. In this piece, the director, who is famous for also directing, among others, the drama Paranoid Park (2007), got inspiration from the Columbine High School Massacre to create a down-to-earth and scary story. The parallels between the movie and the aforementioned event go from iconic scenes on the library and cafeteria, to the outfit of the shooters, as well as the high school hierarchy and the ever-growing bullying culture. The name of the film can be interpreted in the context of the famous expression “we need to talk about the elephant in the room”, when someone is trying to address to an uncomfortable situation that everyone decides to ignore but can still feel its overpowering presence.


One the most peculiar aspects of this film is the way Van Sant decides to tell his story; the scenes are combined in a non-chronological order always overlapping each other, in the beginning the audience might have the feeling that everything seems way too random. However, instead of only presenting the ways the stories of these characters are connected, we see each character as a true individual, as if each one of them was the protagonist of their own personal movie (aren’t we all?). Most of the time, the camera is positioned behind the characters creating a one-point perspective while it (the camera) follows them (the characters) through big wide corridors; as if the audience were the ones merely watching everything without having the capacity and the will to do something.

Another interesting thing is that all the teen characters are actual sophomores from Oregon, without any professional acting training, they all even kept their real first names for the characters. This only makes the subject and the movie itself closer to reality; real people, real problems, real consequences.

Elephant is a motion picture that delivers its scary message in a very efficient manner without creating overwhelming drama; the shots are creative and construct a feeling of close individuality that connects and detaches at the same time. This film is a promess of very intense alone-thinking-times.


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