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Elephant (15)



Review by: Graeme Kay | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: None listed.

MAVERICK director, Gus Van Sant's latest film is a stark portrayal of teenage alienation in America, based loosely on the Columbine High School massacre.

Starring actual students in the leading roles, the film follows the progress of Eli, Nate, Carrie, Brittany, Jordan, Nicole, Michelle, John, Alex and Eric as they go about their daily academic business.

Top jock, Nate, finishes football practice and meets up with his cheerleader girlfriend, Carrie; the amiable Eli takes photos of his schoolfriends; valley girls, Brittany, Jordan and Nicole gossip and bitch in the cafeteria; oddball Michelle goes to work in the library, while world-weary John takes charge of his alcoholic father.

But what about Alex and Eric. What are they doing?

Nothing much: just planning a massacre.

Van Sant chose to title this film after the 1989 movie about the troubles in Northern Ireland, directed by the late Alan Clarke.

For Clarke, the reasoning was that he was dealing with a problem, sectarian violence, that was as easy to ignore as an elephant in a living room.

For Van Sant, too, violence is the problem, but unlike Clarke, he makes no attempt to offer explanations or excuses for it.

He simply follows the action, calmly, dispassionately and with the minimum of involvement.

We learn little about the characters of Alex and Eric, or the motivation for their actions.

All we discover is that they like guns and video games, that they are of higher than average intelligence and that, until the shooting begins, Alex, at least, is actually rather likeable. In short, they are pretty ordinary kids.

But it is this ordinariness, this blandness, that adds to the horror of their action. Even after the massacre starts, neither of the protagonists show any emotion: they appear to be neither excited nor bored by what they are doing, they are just doing it because they can.

They could just as easily not. But, hey, y'know…whatever!

Meanwhile, all the viewer can do is look on and speculate on who will survive. You might want to root for someone, you might not. It doesn't really matter. It's just everyday life…and death.

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