After a reportedly lackluster Cannes Film Festival this year, Gus Van Sant’s latest rambling, languid and enigmatic art film “Elephant” walked away with the coveted Palme d’Or. I think the coolest thing about Cannes is the fact that the festival goers will boo, throw things and generally try to kick your a*s if they think your film is a dog and that it shouldn’t have won their coveted golden leaf. However, no one really did that to Van Sant when he won and now I know why.
“Elephant” doesn’t move you to react. It just sits there like the metaphor it’s title plays on: an elephant in the middle of the room that no one is paying attention to or talking about. I walked out of the theater feeling nothing. Not anger, happiness, sadness, closure…nothing. Not even a bad, empty nothing. Just nothing. Period. Ironically I loved Van Sant’s Gerry, which was truly about nothing, yet here, I just felt kind of sleepy when the lights came up.
“Elephant” isn’t a boring film by any means. The mere fact that the film is based on the horrifying events at Columbine High School gives a gut wrenching sense of suspense throughout. We all know what’s about to happen. However, knowing what’s going to happen and the suspense contained in that just doesn’t make for an interesting enough film.
I’ll spare the details of the plot, we all know what happened at Columbine. Plus, here it doesn’t really matter. This film is so ambiguous and yet at the same time so true to the real-life arguments of “why’d they do it” that the point, if there even is one, sails by unnoticed. Many fans of the film say one must “look closer” to get the point, but that’s just grasping at straws. “Elephant” also goes on to raise some “new” questions that honestly felt like they were merely silly and half cooked notions.
Watching “Elephant” is the filmic equivalent of having small talk with someone in a supermarket checkout line as you both glance the headlines of a magazine. “Damn, those kids are crazy. Why’d they do it?” To which you might reply, “I think it was video games or violence on TV.” Some other guy says, “Nonsense…it’s that their parents don’t care or pay attention.” Then some old lady sticks her head in there and says, “It’s because guns are too easy to get and those boys were probably sexually repressed!”
Granted, the film is shot beautifully and Van Sant works his long takes with a dreamy brilliance. The cast of all “non-actor” kids who apparently ad-libbed their lines aren’t half bad either. It’s just that I felt this film was a pointless rehashing of a horrible event. I didn’t walk into “Elephant” wanting answers for why high school kids feel the need to inflict violence on their classmates. But I walked out of it saying, “so what?” I would have liked to have left the theater wondering more about the incident itself instead of questioning the point of the film.
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