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Essay: “Elephant” by Gus Van Sant

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  • Subject area(s): Photography and arts essays
  • Reading time: 3 minutes
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  • Published: 11 October 2015*
  • File format: Text
  • Words: 810 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 4 (approx)

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Do we all interpret a situation the same way? Or do we even think about the consequences our actions have on other people’s lives? ‘Elephant’ is a film instructed by Gus Van Sant and premiered in 2003. The film follows a number of high school students’ lives, and it centers on the shooting that eventually takes place at the school, and which is carried out by the two characters Alex and Eric.

Throughout the film, every time we are introduced to a new character, their names are shown on a black background. This gives you the idea, that it is like in a book, and that a new chapter has begun. There are a lot of characters in the film, and you can’t really say that any of them are the main characters, but some of them just have a little larger role to play, throughout the plot. The three persons that you get the most information about, and that plays the biggest roles in evolving the plot, is Alex, Eric and their friend, John. As the film be-gins, we follow Johns struggle with his alcoholic father, and as a viewer we interpret, that he must be the main character, because we are told something about his background and his family relation. This is wrong, which we soon discover, when we are introduced to the other characters. The two shooters, who carry out the school shooting, killing off many of the ear-lier introduced characters, are Alex and Eric. We are shown that Alex is quite intelligent, as he is both a talented pianist and a skilled artist. It also seems like he has a good relationship with his family. Despite this, he is bullied in school, by the ‘jocks’. Eric on the other hand we are not told as much about, other than he is the sub-missive part of his and Alex’s relation-ship. Alex is shown as the leader, and he is the one who plans and controls their rampage. Also in the ending of the film, Alex cold-bloodedly kills Eric, in the middle of a sentence, which shows that he probably didn’t feel very strongly about Eric. The two kiss just before leaving for the shooting, but this doesn’t necessarily mean, that they were gay, because when kissing, they say that they have never been kissed, so this could just be their way of both having been kissed, before going into what they know will be their deaths.

The film is very confusing to watch, because it is constantly jumping around in time, and you watch a lot of the scenes from different characters perspective. This creates a very slow pace, and a very long build-up to the climax of the film, where Alex and Eric start the shoot-ing. In many ways the film is very different from the Hollywood films, we are used to. Espe-cially in the way, that the characters that we have been carefully introduced to, and feel like we know, are just killed, with the blink of an eye. That is very unusual, because we are used to a more emotional connection between the characters. The scene where we follow Benny’s walk through the halls, and towards Eric, it is expected, that something meaningful to the story will happen, but instead he is gunned down, just as comes near Eric. This is again very upsetting to the viewers, because normally in films, characters actions has some kind of af-fect on the story, but this time it is totally pointless.

The way the film is filmed, the camera is almost always behind the characters, so when they walk around the halls of the school, it is like in a videogame, when you play a character, and you walk around, seeing what they see. This gives a very different view of the actions takes place, and makes the viewer experience the actions in the film, as if the other characters are speaking to them, and that they are experiencing it themselves. Some of the scenes during the shooting, are filmed from above, almost like it is filmed by security cameras, and this makes the film very realistic, and almost makes it seem like it is a documentary.

Everything you do or say, have an effect on others. You may not realize this, until it is too late. The characters of this movie, had no idea, how their fellow schoolmates felt, and no one stopped to realize it, until they stood face to face with Eric, Alex and a gun. Someone could have stopped them before it was too late, but this was not done. And it wasn’t only Alex and Eric who could have carried out the shooting. Many of the other characters had a lot of problems to deal with, but no one seemed to notice each other’s problems.

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