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Analysis Of Elephant, By Gus Van Sant

2261 words - 9 pages

In today’s society many different forms of art constantly surround us. The music blaring through your headphones, the advertisements we come across, and even the buildings peering high above the New York skyline can all be considered art. One of the most popular mediums of art in present time is filmmaking. Film uses moving photographs to narrate a story, express emotions and convey ideas. The unique aspect of the art of film is that it allows the viewer to become its subject or characters and experience their situations as they are occurring. Gus Van Sant uses this characteristic to his advantage in the 2003 film “Elephant”. Elephant tries to capture the actual and unseen events of the tragic Columbine Massacre in attempts to make sense of a senseless act, while at the same time being true to its senselessness. (Edelstein)
On April 20th, 1999, two students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, launched a deadly assault on Columbine High School in Littleton Colorado. Armed with a rifle, shotguns, and numerous explosives they wreaked havoc on their school. In the end twenty-four people were injured and fifteen, including the shooters, were dead. It was a tragedy that echoed around the country and will be remembered as the worst school shooting in American history. Gus Van Sant took this incident and decided to interpret it in his own artistic vision. Elephant is not a drama; it is not a documentary. It is just a free-floating meditation on the tragedy. The film puts you right in the moment, in real time, with the victims and the killers while doubling back on itself, making chronological jumps and repeating its narrative from different perspectives. It is purposely made to be vague so as to leave the viewer perplexed but, at the same time, stricken and numb. Elephant uses catharsis to allow the viewer to feel not only what the victims were going through but also the shooters. This process of releasing strong emotion creates an underlying mood of intensity throughout the film that is subtle yet powerful.
In a 2004 Guardian Newspaper interview with Gus Van Sant regarding the film, he acknowledged his clear debt to Alan Clarke's 1989 British film “Elephant” by pointing out, among other things, that he'd borrowed Clarke's title. Although Clarke’s short film focuses on sniper gunmen and political violence in Ireland, both films share similarities, such as a fascination with the steady cam shots of people walking and the lack of plot related dialogue. This became an evident characteristic of Van Sant’s later work and you can see all the inspiration for it in Clarke's film. The interview also uncovered the reason behind Clarke’s title. It was stated that he called his film “Elephant” because he perceived Northern Ireland as some kind of elephant in the room: the taboo staring us in the face that we dare not acknowledge. Van Sant said that this meaning could also be applicable to his own film, but what he had in mind when making his film was the old Chinese...

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