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Elephant The Movie

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Gus Van Sant's Elephant was at once critically praised and denounced by both film reviewers and filmgoers alike. The cinematography takes you on a waltz throughout a seemingly typical day at an unnamed high school, stopping through the journey to focus on the stereotypes of school. The jock, the quirky artist, the cliqued girls, the skateboarder, they are all represented and representative of his film. Van Sant created a film, seemingly without a staunch opinion on the horrors of the Columbine shootings. The movie seems distanced from the actors and their actions: an unaware participant from the tranquil introduction to the gruesome climax. His seeming lack of a purpose, lack of a reason for the creation of this film, is exactly the impetus that drives its core meaning. The high school was as stereotyped and typical as possible, a campus where everyone swears they've visited once in their life. The visceral climax is at once both slowly built up to inevitability by the characterizations of the assailants, yet it also strikes the school suddenly and without warning. Van Sant's film is a series of seeming contradictions and paradoxes that create the illusion that he has no stance on the Columbine shootings. His stance, however, is given away in the purposelessness of the film; the idyllic simplicity of the school, and its subsequent destruction, has no purpose. The Columbine massacre had no purpose. Gus Van Sant's aestheticized school builds up a world that seems tangible to most students. He carries every right to create his own world and tear it back down. It is this beauty that he creates that makes the film so much more shocking when it ends.

Aesthetic realism is the concept of accepting reality as unchangeable; therefore, one must find the beauty that is inherent in everyday life instead of attempting to create beauty. The idea is that aesthetic realism "sees all reality including the reality that is oneself, as the aesthetic oneness of opposites," (Siegel). In other words, life is at once changing and the same. For example, someone is the same person when they wake up in the morning and the same person when they go to sleep at night. They haven't changed. However, there have still changed as a person throughout the day, at least minutely. Change and stability both occur simultaneously. At the same time, Siegel states that it "sees the largest purpose of every human being as the liking of the world on an honest basis," (Siegel). This is taking a moment of time, accepting it for what it is, and then seeing the beauty that is inherent in it.

Van Sant's film aestheticizes the reality of high school, focusing on its beauty and character, and ignoring the underlying grime inherent on most campuses. The halls and yard of the school are kept in immaculate condition, staying unnaturally clean, almost sterile for a school. Despite this seeming glorification of the building, the hallways are kept as a constant secondary to the sharply focused characters the camera constantly follows. It takes the focus away from the bare walls and empty hallways and places it solely on the students. The film isn't about the location that it occurred, but the people that it happened to. The focus is on the students of the film, both literally and figuratively. The camera seems to never stop moving, save for brief pauses that seem to rest the viewer. There is little extraneous distraction from the characters as they walk down the hall; the only time something distracts from the center of attention is when it is repeated again as the film goes through its several cycles that repeat scenes from different points of view.

The film intertwines the lives of its multiple points of view. They all seem to be unrelated, but they ultimately tie together in a cohesive storyline that unravels into its unavoidable conclusion. Each person follows his or her own timeline until it reaches the point moments before the rampage. As one timeline concludes, the next one begins tangent to the previous, overlapping slightly, but otherwise telling another unique story. Each story is a vignette of someone's day, each time slowly followed by the omnipresent camera. The stories of the characters, while somewhat interesting from a voyeuristic sense, do not create a particularly shocking film. Were it to end moments before the climax, it would have ultimately become a remarkably different film. However, it is the routine nature of their life that the viewer can relate to, and it is this connection that grows between the viewer and the film that makes the conclusion so tangibly terrifying.

What ultimately creates the feeling of how disturbing and ultimately visceral the film is can be the commonality that exists between all of the characters. It is possible to feel as though one has vicariously lived a segment of their life through the abused Eric, the maltreated John, or the universally loved Elias. The halls have a feeling that the school could be anywhere; the students are stereotypes that exist at every high school. The subtle details, from the janitorial push mop to the balding principal all exist at both the school in Elephant and "your" high school. Even the music, primarily Ludwig van Beethoven, is universal. Everyone knows the melody of Fur Elise or the rhythmic beats of Moonlight Sonota, if not the name of the composition, and it resonates to the viewer as something instantly recognizable.

The film builds up with each high school stereotype building upon the last. John is the pretty boy,



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