Saturday, May 1

Review: Elephant

I think the main reason that old people call college the "happiest days of their lives", is because of the contrast with what precedes it. For everyone over about 25 who can't remember that kind of stuff, let's get one thing straight. High school sucks. It sucks on levels so fundamental you can't even begin to comprehend it. You may laugh about your pubescent insecurity now, but try to imagine having no security about anything whatsoever, and being called out for it too. Am I doing the right things? Why don't girls like me? Am I a freak? What the hell is happening? This for six years. Day in, day out.

Gus van Sandt's Elephant brought back this feeling in the most gut-wrenching way possible. I've rarely seen a movie that felt so much like my everyday life (or at least, my everyday life up until last year). Everybody and everything in the film feels so convincing, so breathing, almost... touchable. The first half of the movie shows nothing more then just a group of students going their way. Going to class, being late, gossiping, sporting, everything. One of the guys is a photographer and apparently pretty good at it. One girl is told she can't wear long trousers to gym class anymore. A boy with a yellow shirt has an alcoholic father whom he has troubles with. And one guy gets whet tissues thrown at him. The only difference between this and any normal high school is that the last guy has a gun.

The shooting that eventually ensues made me literally sick to the stomach. The movie became almost unwatchable at points. Not because it is particularly gory or nasty. What makes this movie such an incredibly punch to the guts is the way it presents everything.

The camera, for instance, seems almost to be a character itself. Sometimes it closely follows somebody for a while. Sometimes it just stand still, and watches people walk by. Sometimes it watches one of the characters walk through a corridor. Sometimes it is observing girls having lunch. And sometimes it observes somebody randomly shooting everyone he sees.

But this camerawork is used to convey the most important point of the movie: the sheer pointlessness of it all. Some of the students escape, some die. Without any reason. The killers are not shown to have any motivation, or "push" over the edge. They are shown in the same way as the victims. And in fact, they are the same as the victims: people. Or even worse: adolescents.

The second worst thing about school shootings is the coverage. The media are always trying to find reasons, some inherent higher justice. This movie has the guts not to condemn. It is brave enough to just show. And it succeeds in everything it does. This movie is one of the most intense and heavy I have ever seen.


This song completely captures the eerie, helpless mood of the movie. Listen closely to the lyrics.


  1. Ik plande om deze ochtend te gebruiken om de juridische context van de ruimtelijke planning in Nederland te leren. Ik besloot dat het productiever was om alle posts op deze (dit?) blog te lezen. En het was nog interessant ook!
    Noem me alleen geen "imaginary reader" meer. Dat geeft zo'n gevoel van non-existentie.
    En ik moet nu nog harder Shadow of the Colossus en Ico spelen, maar de dichtsbijzijnde copy die ik vond is in Leiden. Dus kan ik SotC van jou lenen/stelen? alsjeblieft?


  2. I really loved this movie! And that blonde dude is so freakin' hot ;)
    But exactly like you said: it showes the shooters as victims and captures the huge pointlessness of the cruelty of high school. Totally know where you're talking about!
    As I am listening the soundtrack right now, I do get the right feeling. But still I like the classical music in the movie more..