Running Length: 81 minutes
MPAA Classification: R for disturbing violent content, language, brief sexuality, and drug use – all involving teens.
Cast: John Robinson, Alex Frost, Eric Deulen, Matt Malloy, Timothy Robbins, Elias McConnell
Director: Gus Van Sant
Producers: Diane Keaton, JT LeRoy, Dany Wolf
Screenplay: Gus Van Sant
High school is hell and Elephant understands that, even up to the last couple of minutes. It encourages you to reminisce of your past high school days as the camera delicately weaves through the halls, observing students in their most natural state. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it an involving film experience, but by the end, I was surprised how involved I actually was.
Warning: those looking for a plot will be disappointed. The Gus Van Sant of late is not a filmmaker whose work focuses on storytelling as much as it does general meaning. Most people mistake this for pretentiousness. Those same people are not interested by watching real life unfold. Understand that I’m not insulting those kinds of people. Van Sant’s films are not always exciting to watch, and I understand that, but you can’t deny the amount of finesse involved.
Elephant has characters and a setting, but it’s not until about an hour in that any sort of meaningful action happens. There is one student in particular that we are centered on named John (played by John Robinson), even though we don’t necessarily stay with him most of the time. John is the ideal high school student. Not ideal in the sense that he excels in his academics and maintains a regular social life, but ideal in the sense that he is confused, lost, and not sure of where he’s headed in life. This is the most accurate portrayal of a high school student I’ve ever seen in a movie, outdoing any previous attempts from filmmakers like Larry Clark and Richard Linklater, who have both tried but never succeeded quite as well as Van Sant has.
Where Van Sant derives his success from is the slow and deliberate pace he takes to show us all of the events leading up to the finale. I can already picture those of you who will be grinding your teeth in frustration at the ten minute tracking shots that circumnavigate the entire campus. Because of this, Elephant feels thirty minutes longer than it actually is, but in all of that time, it’s never boring. It’s almost captivating in a way, inviting us to watch as a normal day of high school happens.
It’s a watch that is well worth the while, if Van Sant’s style is a style that you are accustomed to. It will leave you stunned and deep in thought, pondering about your old high school days and things you did, good or bad.
|Final rating: ★★★ 1/2 (out of ★★★★)|
© 2011 Stephen Earnest