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Elephant (2003) Dir. Gus Van Sant - Review

"But somehow, when this happened here— maybe because of the scope of it, and I think mostly because of you, how you reacted, all of you, the relief workers, the law enforcement people, the family members who were brave enough to speak—there was a different reaction. People thought, “This has happened in my neighborhood; what can I do?” I say that because you have a unique chance—a chance— to make sure that the children of Columbine are never forgotten." - President Bill Clinton's words a month or so after the Columbine School Shooting.

I want to hone in and examine one specific part of that quote because its crucial to understanding what makes Columbine so important and a violent bloody part of 90's American culture. "...I think mostly because of you, how you reacted, all of you, the relief workers, the law enforcement people, the family members who were brave enough to speak—there was a different reaction" This right here highlights everything wrong with the American media and subtly foreshadows at the times to come. Although President Clinton didn't know this at the time, and I'm not sure anyone was hyper aware enough to understand, but the tragedy that Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris committed in 1999 would set the stage for the next 22 years in American history and forever alter the course of it. Legislation, Art, Jobs, even people's very LIVES were forever altered for better or worse following the Columbine Massacre. It's one of those interesting cases of someone being the first to do something, and they are forever associated with it. Don't you find it strange that almost all modern day school shooters have a similar dichotomy: sympathy for Dylan and Eric, a need to make a name for themselves outside of society, and a feeling of dejection and loss from participation in society. I am serious, almost all of them cite Dylan and Eric as inspiration for the atrocity's they commit. The Parkland shooter stated he loved them; there's even an entire subculture of people online who worship the two. There's something incredibly disturbing to be found in the romanticization of the 90's and the shooters of columbine. It's almost like those two ideas comingle way too often, that maybe the 90's were a peaceful time interrupted solely by the shooting. I believe this is why people can empathize or even sympathize with the two: because they come from a time period they want to relive. The outfits of the shooters are costumes you can find online. Their names not even last needed are synonymous with an entire generation and classification of violence. What I am trying to say here, is that Dylan and Eric ceased to be people following their self inflicted suicides on April 1999, and ascended to an idea. The easiest example I can give in modern times of a person's name or an object's name signifying much more than its physical and mental being is Sam Hyde. Hyde represents and entire subculture of thought and comedy created and upheld by the community that follows him. It's much like how Stalin is more associated with communism to the average person than he is with actual Stalinism. There's a misguided and misconstrued set of ideals applied to them that can never be erased, due in part to the media and the rise of the internet. Dylan and Eric are history, and an idea that expresses more than just two individuals. That's incredibly powerful. Even Adam Lanza the school shooter of Sandy Hook was an avid participant and browser of a popular Columbine massacre discussion board. Their influence over internet subculture is undeniable.

But what does this have to do with Elephant? Least be said, this film is on its own at the very best, an okay art film that does it's best to depict a school shooting in a very cold and unemotional manner. I would go even as far to say that I don't think Gus Van Saint knows exactly how good this film is outside of his own intentions. See, the genius of this film can be abstracted from a quote found in the basement tapes of the columbine shooters. ' "Dylan: "Directors will be fighting over this story. I know we're gonna have followers because we're so fucking God-like. We're not exactly human -- we have human bodies but we've evolved into one step above you, fucking human shit. We actually have fucking self-awareness." The boys speculate whether Steven Spielberg or Quentin Tarantino should direct the film in a later quote found in the video.

Take it from their word of mouth. They wanted to be cool, aestheticized and even I would go as far as to say they wanted people to romanticize them. The media and society gave them all this and more. Elephant though, denies them this very existence. It exposes them for what they are, emotionless murderers who committed a heinous crime for no reason other than pure selfish drive. It's through Gus's carefully crafted and slow Steadicam shots that we are given 0 compassion or interest for these shooters. During the actual shooting, the camera outright denies the viewer the climax of experiencing the tragedy itself, and we find ourselves affixed on the shooters blank face. This is the ultimate irony to Dylan and Eric, that the one actual notable fiction film about them is shot in the most transcendental and to most people uninteresting manners possible. The shooters themselves don't' even make up more than 20 minutes of the film in which they hardly speak. This film stands as a complete rejection of the infatuation and love that came for these terrible and reprehensible individuals. The majority of the film follows the victims instead, and they are basically nameless to us. I think this is completely intentional and a telling sign of today's media presence. We experience so many shootings and tragedies much like this one on a regular basis that the country itself is starting to feel numb to their efforts. And we are numb to it. How many school shootings do you remember off the top of your head? Do you know who did them and why? You may not know the details of any other ones, and I hope you don't. Because we all remember Dylan and Eric when we don't want to.


-Tylor Myers 07 Mar, 2021


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