Pulled In Many Directions

Not-so-daily rambings about my life and my thoughts

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Mini Movie Review: Elephant

Yeah, yeah, don't read it if you want to see it.

I'm not really sure what to write about a movie whose main premise is about a school shooting. I'm not even sure what to write about myself, who knew full well what the movie was about and decided to rent it anyways.

The movie takes place in an unnamed Portland, Oregon high school, and while the location is different much of the film echoes the events that happened in Littleton, Colorado on April 20, 1999. But then again, it doesn't because with what happened at the Columbine school, we only got to know the students in news reports made after they were killed. Here, in much of the 80 minute movie, we are treated to the days in the life of different high schoolers, who came to school originally only worried about being teased during gym class or completing an art assignment well, or how many calories were in the half banana they had for breakfast anyways.

I think this is what makes the movie so chilling, is how you get to meet and get to know a lot about the students, their dreams and their motivations. Lots of the students talk about the future, as a better life is all within their grasp -- they just have to graduate next year and leave town to do it. It's chilling how normal everything starts out, until the middle of the day, when the two boys Alex dressed all in black, and Eric (and yes it is a strange coincidence but Gus Van Sant decided everyone on screen would play characters who shared their name for the most part) having practiced his shot on an internet computer game storm the hallways looking to pick people off. Alex warns a boy he knows to get the hell away from the school and go home, much like what happened in Columbine. One of the first rooms they go into to start their carnage spree is the library, much like what happened in Columbine.

My heart went into my stomach during the movie, and I swear I was able to taste it. No explanation, save for a scene where Alex is shown being a spitball target, is given. The boys talk about killing themselves once they have completed their task, but the ending scene is not one where we see them off themselves. There's no scene where the police are called in or the kids are apprehended. The movie ends where one of the boys with a gun finds two students hiding and as he waves the semi-automatic at them and taunts them with a children's rhyme usually reserved for who will be "it" in Tag, decides who he will kill first. The movie ends just as he finishes the rhyme. Horrifying.

Curiously there is a scene that happens right before the end where Alex and Eric meet up in the cafeteria and after exchanging small talk, Alex catches Eric off guard and shoots him. Strangely enough, I can handle Gus Van Sant telling me that there's no point in asking questions about the killers killing in this movies, and yet I am still wondering about this one scene, and why it happened the way it did. Was Alex caught up in the thrill of killing? Did he feel weird about a previous kiss the two boys shared (and yes, that also happened in the movie)? There had been theories ages ago (now since disproven) that Dylan Klebold had in fact not pulled the trigger on himself as they figured a right hand shot would put the gun up to the right temple, and not the left. But then later it turned out that Dylan Klebold was in fact left-handed so there went that theory. But still completely intriguing and unsettling to think about someone's ego getting so big that they decide they want to kill their own partner in crime.

I still remember that day like it was yesterday. I was sitting on my boyfriend's bed and we were watching the news and saw what was happening in Littleton, and I remember just feeling so helpless. Not having been out of high school for very long, I understood what a harsh terrain high school could be to navigate, but could not understand, still don't understand and probably never will understand what made those boys decide they had to kill as many people as possible before taking themselves out.

I think at 80 minutes, given what Gus Van Sant wanted to touch on here, the length is just right. Towards the end of the movie, you can't imagine it going on for very much longer. But lucky for you if you wanted to, you could turn the DVD off and make it all go away. Unfortunately for students who lived not only in Columbine but in Paducah, Kentucky and Jonesboro, Arkansas, among other places, the memory of their school shooting probably still haunts them to this day.

I'd recommend if you want to see this movie, see it with a friend, someone you care about, because you will be left redundantly wondering why and how. You might actually need the support of that friend as the terror unfolds on the screen. It's not a happy feel good movie of course, but certainly worth viewing if only because it makes you think, and yet wish that there could be something you could do to prevent this from ever happening again.

I knew this movie would be a downer so not only did I watch it in the early afternoon, I rented a more upbeat film to follow it: "My Date With Drew." If it's worth mentioning, I'll mention it later in here.