Elephant

on October 24, 2003 by Mary Colbert
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This improvisational drama about an American high school, described by writer/director Gus Van Sant as "somewhat of a poem about the lives of high school kids," takes the filmmaker back to familiar terrain: Many of his films--"Macha Noche," "My Own Private Idaho," "Good Will Hunting" and, to a lesser extent, "Gerry"--explore adolescent life. Here, Van Sant set out to objectively portray the American teen psyche via a loose script improvised by his ensemble of mostly non-professional actors--actual students in a Portland, Ore., high school who were encouraged to use their own dialogue. The day starts out unspectacularly enough with snatches of everyday student activities--until two male students (Alex Frost and Eric Deulen) shatter the day with a Columbine-like shooting spree. The filmmaker's aim: to create a realistic portrayal capturing the atmosphere of that day.

As the title reveals, this movie is an homage in part to the 1989 BBC film by the late Alan Clarke that depicted Northern Ireland's sectarian violence as relentless--"as easy to ignore as an elephant in the living room." In a similar way, Van Sant portrays high school life spiraling into violence.

Using long tracking shots and natural sounds, Van Sant allows the material to accumulate from a variety of perspectives to its dramatic climax. But the frustration of his depiction is its very objectivity--the lack of any attempt to analyze or comment on psychological motivation or resonance. "Elephant's" detachment leaves us feeling short-changed. Starring Alex Frost, Eric Deulen, John Robinson, Elias McConnell, Timothy Bottoms, Jordan Taylor, Carrie Finklea, Nicole George, Brittany Mountain, Alicia Miles and Kristen Hicks. Directed and written by Gus Van Sant. Produced by Dany Wolf. A Fine Line release. Drama. Rated R for disturbing violent content, language, brief sexuality and drug use--all involving teens. Running time: 81 min

Tags: Alex Frost, Eric Deulen, John Robinson, Elias McConnell, Timothy Bottoms, Jordan Taylor, Carrie Finklea, Nicole George, Brittany Mountain, Alicia Miles, Kristen Hicks. Directed, Gus Van Sant, Produced by Dany Wolf. A Fine Line, Drama
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