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  •  REVIEW: ELEPHANT

    Elephant

    Halls of injustice

    Scenes from an ordinary American high school are the backdrop for a school massacre story in Gus Van Sant's skilled but unsatisfying "Elephant."

    By JOSHUA TANZER
    Offoffoff.com

    "Elephant" carries the tag line "an ordinary high school day. Except that it's not." And that's the problem — the movie is too mundane for its subject matter.

      
    ELEPHANT
    Written and directed by: Gus Van Sant.
    Cast: Alex Frost, Eric Deulen, John Robinson, Elias McConnell, Jordan Taylor, Carrie Finklea, Nicole George, Larry Laverty, Brittany Mountain, Alicia Miles, Kristen Hicks, Bennie Dixon, Nathan Tyson, Timothy Bottoms, Matt Malloy, Elisa E. Williams, Jason Seitz, Elisa De La Motte, Sarah Bing.
    Cinematography: Harris Savides.

    Related links: Official site
     SCHEDULE
    Walter Reade Theater Lincoln Center, 65th St. between Broadway and Amsterdam (212) 875-5600 Fri. Oct. 10, 9:15 pm Sat. Oct. 11, 12:30 pm

     RELATED ARTICLES
    New York Film Festival 2003
  • 21 Grams
  • The Barbarian Invasions
  • Crimson Gold
  • Dogville
  • Elephant

  • The Flower of Evil
  • The Fog of War
  • Mystic River
  • Raja
  • S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine

  • Festival site
  • Gus Van Sant ("Drugstore Cowboy," "My Own Private Idaho," "Good Will Hunting") puts us in the middle of an average high school to follow about a dozen of its teenage charges through their day. Two of them are planning to end the day by massacring as many of the rest as possible.

    While other students are playing football, talking about boys or suffering uncomfortably through gym class, Alex (Alex Frost) is spending his lunch break scouting out the cafeteria and taking notes on a small notepad.

    "What are you writing?" a girl asks him.

    "Oh, this?" he says. "It's my plan."

    "For what?" she asks.

    "Oh, you'll see," he says. It's the kind of ambiguous response that Americans are gradually learning not to take lightly.

    Why are Alex and his buddy Eric (Erid Deulen) plotting their terrible vengeance? Oh, maybe there are a few scattered hints, but the film doesn't really go into that. The pair get about the same quick, voyeuristic, detail-poor introduction that all the other characters do.

    Van Sant has cast actual high school kids from his hometown, Portland, Oregon, and based their parts on their own experiences — which leads to true performances but thin drama. These kids are all quite believable — the aspiring photographer, the cute bulimic girls, the hunky football hero and his doting girlfriend, the anguished son of an alcoholic father — but they are portrayed onscreen as shorthand versions of what we can only speculate are deeper human beings in reality. The same technique was used in this spring's "Raising Victor Vargas," with similar results.

    Elephant  
    Cinematically, Van Sant has a lot of interesting stuff going on. While one or another of the teenagers is always front and center, people and places fade in and out of focus, giving the picture a slightly dreamlike quality. The sound does something similar — sometimes many adolescent conversations converge into a generalized murmur, from which fragmented words and phrases pop out to hint at what's being said. There are playful uses of slow motion and interlocking stories detached from one another in time and perspective. It's a very engaging film experience if not a fully formed story.

    As much as the school massacre phenomenon has become an obsession of American cultural observers because it seems to touch on something indefinable but disturbing at our core (besides Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine," there was this year's "Zero Day" and numerous plays including the following: 1, 2, 3), it's not clear what "Elephant" adds in terms of understanding the psyche of those involved. The scenes when the well-armed malcontents show up to carry out their plans are undeniably intense and troubling, but they haven't been given a very strong setup that would make sense of what we see.

    Nonetheless, the film won top honors at this year's Cannes Film Festival, and it may look quite different to European eyes than to American ones. For some, in countries where it's rare for teenagers to drive cars, never mind own guns, it may provide a glimpse into an unfamiliar culture, and that may somehow fit the weapons-blazing conclusion in the European mind. But to Americans, the people we see are not exotic in the least — they're exactly the people we went to school with, and we may even see them as abstract types rather than complex individuals. "Elephant" seems to float ethereally around our reality rather than dive in.

    OCTOBER 8, 2003
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK


    Reader comments on Elephant:

  • HI ALEX   from Megan Saul, Nov 10, 2003
  • ALEX AND ERIC!!!!!!!!!!!!!   from Madonna, May 9, 2004
  • Elias McConnell   from Ali, Nov 11, 2003
  • Re: Elias McConnell   from kevin, Nov 12, 2003
  • Elephant and that t-shirt   from j.price, Nov 14, 2003
  • hottie...john robinson   from steph k, Nov 14, 2003
  • Re: hottie...john robinson   from lise, Feb 17, 2004
  • Re: hottie...john robinson   from samantha, May 18, 2004
  • Re: hottie...john robinson   from , Nov 25, 2004
  • Re: hottie...john robinson   from Amie A, Jun 11, 2004
  • Re: hottie...john robinson   from morgane, Nov 25, 2004
  • Re: hottie...john robinson   from Sydney <3 John, May 3, 2006
  • Re: hottie...john robinson   from rosie, Jun 27, 2004
  • Re: hottie...john robinson   from ted, Jul 14, 2004
  • Re: hottie...john robinson   from Brian, Sep 20, 2004
  • Re: hottie...john robinson   from Michelle, Sep 26, 2004
  • Re: hottie...john robinson   from Elodie, Jul 7, 2004
  • Re: hottie...john robinson   from voteKerry, Jul 12, 2004
  • Re: hottie...john robinson   from mallory, Apr 10, 2005
  • Re: hottie...john robinson   from mallory, Apr 10, 2005
  • Re: hottie...john robinson   from Melanie, Jul 15, 2004
  • Re: hottie...john robinson   from char, Jul 20, 2004
  • Re: HOTTIE...JOHN   from JAYLYNNE, Jul 22, 2004
  • Re: HOTTIE...JOHN   from ally, Mar 29, 2005
  • Re: hottie...john robinson   from JDM, Aug 8, 2004
  • Re: hottie...john robinson   from kj, Jan 2, 2005
  • Re: hottie...john robinson   from , Apr 10, 2005
  • Re: hottie...john robinson   from lauren, Dec 4, 2004
  • Re: Elephant and that t-shirt   from Keaton, Jan 21, 2004
  • Re: Elephant and that t-shirt   from Manu, Feb 6, 2004
  • Re: Elephant and that t-shirt   from Elias T, Dec 29, 2004
  • Re: Elephant and that t-shirt   from Jonas, Dec 29, 2004
  • Re: Elias McConnell   from Chelsea, May 24, 2004
  • Re: Elias McConnell   from Surya and Emiko, Nov 19, 2003
  • Re: Elias McConnell   from mathilde, Nov 21, 2003
  • Re: Elias McConnell   from maribeth, Aug 11, 2004
  • Elias McConnell's friend Ali   from Amber, Sep 18, 2004
  • Elephant? Man.....   from Dana, Nov 16, 2003
  • Re: Elephant? Man.....   from , Nov 17, 2003
  • Re: Elephant? Man.....   from , Nov 19, 2003
  • Re: Elephant? Man.....   from nicole, Nov 19, 2003
  • Re: Elephant? Man.....   from , Feb 9, 2004
  • Re: Elephant? Man.....   from (ANNONYMOUS), Nov 19, 2003
  • Re: Elephant? Man.....   from Ryan, Nov 26, 2003
  • Re: Elephant? Man.....   from , Apr 11, 2004
  • Re: Elephant? Man.....   from BoaRdyMeiSje, May 9, 2004
  • Re: Elephant? Man.....   from emily, Jun 11, 2004
  • Re: Elephant? Man.....   from Mel, Jan 27, 2005
  • Re: Elephant? Man.....   from , Nov 23, 2006
  • Re: Elephant? Man.....   from heidi, Jun 21, 2004
  • Re: Elephant? Man.....   from , Mar 19, 2006
  • Re: Elephant? Man.....   from john r, Aug 23, 2004
  • Re: Elephant? Man.....   from , Nov 24, 2004
  • Re: Elephant? Man.....   from Lilith, Mar 19, 2006
  • looks really good &Eric Deulenis hot:)   from kami, Nov 19, 2003
  • HOT HOT AND MORE HOTTIE-HOTNESS   from EMIKO & surya, Nov 19, 2003
  • john Robinson a very good actor!!!   from mathilde, Nov 21, 2003
  • Re: john Robinson a very good actor!!!   from LAURE, Nov 27, 2003
  • jooooooooooooooooooooooooooohn!!   from morgane, Nov 25, 2004
  • Re: jooooooooooooooooooooooooooohn!!   from hihi, Nov 15, 2005
  • john with his T-shirt   from mathilde, Nov 21, 2003
  • Re: john with his T-shirt   from samuel, Dec 4, 2003
  • Re: john with his T-shirt   from jeanne, Mar 24, 2004
  • Re: john with his T-shirt   from Maria, Aug 12, 2004
  • Re: john with his T-shirt   from Tim, Apr 3, 2005
  • Why " Elephant"?   from Monica, Nov 30, 2003
  • Re: Why   from manos, Dec 11, 2003
  • Re: Why   from ryan, Dec 14, 2003
  • REAL REASON BEHIND TITLE   from Alex, Nov 24, 2004
  • Re: REAL REASON BEHIND TITLE   from Emily, Feb 22, 2006
  • Re: Why   from Tai, Nov 24, 2004
  • Re: Why   from , Dec 20, 2003
  • Re: Why   from Anne, Jan 14, 2004
  • Re: Why   from ilene, May 28, 2004
  • <~~MY VIEWS ON ELEPHANT~~>   from >>>>AMI>>>, Sep 17, 2004
  • Re: Why   from Kyle, Jan 8, 2004
  • Re: Why   from , Jan 24, 2005
  • eric deulen   from , Dec 3, 2003
  • Re: eric deulen   from BoaRdyMeiSje, May 9, 2004
  • awsome   from Jessy, Jan 6, 2004
  • Different Movie   from YogB, Jan 21, 2004
  • unbeliveable   from kamilla, Feb 23, 2004
  • it is a great movie and eli and alex hot   from Tamsin, Mar 13, 2004
  • You can't do the impossible.   from Fortune, Mar 28, 2004
  • i think John Robinson is amazing!.. lol   from Ceyara Harvey, Mar 28, 2004
  • read:   from rebekca, May 1, 2004
  • Re: read:   from emily, May 8, 2004
  • [no subject]   from christy read!, May 17, 2004
  • pics. of john robinson!   from chrisy read, May 17, 2004
  • Re: pics. of john robinson!   from ted, Jul 14, 2004
  • mouahahahahahahah..^^   from Popy Vinyl, May 28, 2004
  • Re: mouahahahahahahah..^^   from , Jul 30, 2004
  • John Robinson is the hottest guy ever!   from Kayla, Jun 14, 2004
  • Re: John Robinson is the hottest guy ever!   from amber, Jun 21, 2004
  • Re: John Robinson is the hottest guy ever!   from rosie, Jun 27, 2004
  • yo!   from brina and meredith, Jul 4, 2004
  • JOHN   from Lana, Jul 5, 2004
  • UNFORTUNATE FUTURE FOR JOHN   from Alex, Nov 24, 2004
  • Worked With The cast The red head kid   from Roman Ostrovsky, Jul 5, 2004
  • WHOA   from Sloane, Aug 2, 2004
  • Re: WHOA   from amber, Aug 2, 2004
  • Elephant   from Adrienne, Aug 3, 2004
  • the movie duh!   from mariah, Aug 14, 2004
  • Amazing Movie!!!   from Joel, Aug 26, 2004
  • changed   from amber, Aug 27, 2004
  • watched this movie last night...   from Josh, Aug 30, 2004
  • Please visit John Robinson's first & only website!   from John Robinson site Webmaster, Aug 30, 2004
  • with many thanks to cast and crew   from Zac, Aug 31, 2004
  • ALEX,ERIC,AND JOHN   from Kristie, Sep 6, 2004
  • Re: ALEX,ERIC,AND JOHN   from Tai, Nov 24, 2004
  • Re: ALEX,ERIC,AND JOHN   from Sandie, Aug 2, 2006
  • Hey dudes, como te la vou   from Austin Rogge, Sep 6, 2004
  • [no subject]   from lanny, Sep 25, 2004
  • JOHN YOU ARE BEUTIFUL   from ena, Nov 24, 2004
  • He stole my name.   from John Robinson, Nov 24, 2004
  • Re: He stole my name.   from alex, Nov 24, 2004
  • Re: He stole my name.   from mikky, Nov 25, 2004
  • halls of injustice   from lostSOULtee666, Nov 24, 2004
  • Acadia   from alex, Nov 24, 2004
  • wow!!   from lauren, Dec 4, 2004
  • John   from haley, Dec 7, 2004
  • Re: John   from Jessie, Dec 15, 2004
  • Re: John   from morgane, Jan 12, 2005
  • [no subject]   from Tinkerbell, Dec 28, 2004
  • does anyone no how i can contact him   from emma, Feb 1, 2005
  • john robinson   from melissa, Feb 20, 2005
  • awesome hotties!!!!!!!!!!!!!   from katherine, Mar 22, 2005
  • john i feel for ya bro1   from Katherine, Mar 23, 2005
  • Guy walking through corridors??   from pjrydo, Apr 19, 2005
  • Re: Guy walking through corridors??   from mallory, Apr 28, 2005
  • BOYS   from TJ, May 15, 2005
  • Re: BOYS   from Sandie, Aug 2, 2006
  • ...elephant...   from cora, May 24, 2005
  • The movie was breathtaking   from Whitney, Jul 1, 2005
  • Re: The movie was breathtaking   from willie, Oct 11, 2005
  • Elephant   from willlie, Oct 10, 2005
  • john   from willie, Oct 11, 2005
  • [no subject]   from rdog, Dec 10, 2005
  • [no subject]   from , Jan 14, 2006
  • wow   from erin, Feb 4, 2006
  • BEST film Ive ever seen   from Lilith, Mar 19, 2006
  • Re: BEST film Ive ever seen   from not_on, Apr 18, 2006
  • i loved it!!!!   from Hailey, Mar 22, 2006
  • GRRR....   from sydney<3JohnRobinson, May 3, 2006
  • "Elephant" promises much, but delivers little   from Onikaze, May 19, 2006
  • SEXY!!!!   from hannah, Jul 20, 2006
  • Hey this is for ALEX FROST   from Jessica Hays, Aug 2, 2006
  • To the one who posted the review...   from Ligaya, Aug 23, 2006
  • whata   from idkwhat, Sep 19, 2006
  • Re: whata   from DAmn u, Feb 13, 2007

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