Elephant (***1/2)

(2003) dir. Gus Van Sant – w/ Alex Frost, Eric Deulen, John Robinson, Elias McConnell, Jordan Taylor, Carrie Finklea, Nicole George, Brittany Mountain, etc.

Synopsis: In what is essentially a fictionalization of the Columbine school shootings (and school violence more generally), Gus Van Sant explores a day in the life of a school that about to be subjected to intense and unexpected violence from two of its students. Van Sant follows different characters as their paths cross and tangle over the course of the film, sometimes examining the same scene from several different perspectives at different points in the movie.

Review: ‘Elephant’ is good, but not outstanding. (It won the Palm d’Or at Cannes in 2003, so this point is obviously contestable.) It’s a quiet movie—there are only a couple moments, in fact, when the action is accompanied by any music at all. This, for me, was the first strike. I’m not generally a fan of quiet movies, in part because I get easily distracted. You may not. I do, and I find it hard to become engrossed. Another thing about Elephant is that it’s highly minimalist, and the script is largely improvised. Whether the former means anything, I have no idea. What the latter means is, strike #2. While the improvisational nature lends a certain credibility to what’s being said on-screen, it also detracts from the movie in some ways. I don’t care how brilliant the actors are, the dialogue, however genuine or stylistically desirable, isn’t going to be as tight as well-written scripted dialogue. These weaknesses aside, Elephant’s a pretty good movie. There are moments of genius, but the movie doesn’t manage to sustain these moments for very long. It’s well-shot, with inordinately long tracking shots that give the setting a real sense of depth and complexity. All things considered, it’s pretty well-acted, though I wouldn’t call any of the performances exceptional. The use of various perspectives to link the action and characters together is pretty clever, and helps to give you a sense that the movie is more than a single plotline. It also feeds into the sense that nothing (school violence, for starters) can be realistically said to have a single cause. Van Sant didn’t want to resolve the issue of where school violence comes from—after all, it’s not a point that can really be resolved, certainly not in 80+ minutes.

Rating: [•••½] out of [•••••]

It’s not invented, but it brings joy to lots of people

Despite a few seemingly poor questions late in the game (e.g., “can it be used more than once?” and “was it invented?” ), and despite a few of the more arguable answers I provided, the artificial intelligence of 20Q managed to guess that I was thinking about an elephant! Imagine that.


Play it yourself, if you like.

  1. It is classified as Animal.
  2. Can it run fast? Yes.
  3. Can it climb? No.
  4. Is it tall? Yes.
  5. Does it have a long tail? No.
  6. Does it bring joy to people? Yes.
  7. Is it a wild animal? Yes.
  8. Does it have a horn? No.
  9. Can you eat it? No.
  10. Is it multicolored? No.
  11. Is it brown? No.
  12. Is it comforting? Irrelevant.
  13. Is it considered valuable? Irrelevant.
  14. Does it live in grass-lands? Yes.
  15. Can it be used in remote areas? Irrelevant.
  16. Was it invented? No.
  17. Is it bigger than sofa? Yes.
  18. Can it be used more than once? Irrelevant.
  19. Is it smooth? No.

P.S. glancing over the instructions page, I realize that “elephant” is one of the things that 20Q is best at guessing; shows, I guess, how innovative and cutting-edge my thoughts are… So anyway, I went back and tried coffee maker—presumably more difficult—and 20Q again guessed correctly. Anyway, just FYI. I guess elephant is the kind of thing lots of people think about. I know I do, it just didn’t occur to me that it would be such an easily guessed thing.

(originally via MeFi)