Elephant (2003)

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On Tuesday, April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School near Denver, Colorado, two senior students embarked on a massacre, killing twelve students, one teacher, and injuring over twenty more students. The two troubled students then committed suicide. It is the fourth deadliest school massacre in United States history. The phrase “elephant in the room” is used as a metaphor to describe an obvious truth that goes unaddressed, or simply ignored. Everyone knows it is there, but no one will say what needs to be said, or acknowledge the problem that is in front of them. Gus Van Sant’s, Elephant, is a cinematic response to the 1999 Columbine High School shootings. Van Sant’s open-ended treatment of the Columbine event is one example of how his creative strategy is able to focus the social complexity behind the incident, and stimulate curiosity from the audience. This style of film steps far past the traditional boundaries to the point, demonstrating that this is only scratching the surface, suggesting that there is much more depth than what is shown in plain view. Elephant refuses to adjust to conventional views of cause and effect, and instead weaves an inescapable spell on its audience with its distinctive long takes, diegetic and non-diegetic sounds, and an interweaving, realistic narrative structure, all contributing to its remarkable visual harmony and an everlasting emotional affect on those who witness it. One creative strategy that Van Sant employs throughout the movie’s entirety is its distinctive, but unique long takes. This unconventional way of filming helps determine the atmosphere of the film as a whole. Van Sant takes the audience on a trancelike journey as the camera follows each character around the school. The action is moved along by the continual course of the camera tracking behind different students as they navigate the school halls, cafeteria, library, and football field. During these long takes, the audience is given the perspective of a...
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