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Elephant is a 2003 crime-drama film written and directed by Gus Van Sant. It takes place in the fictional Watt High School, in the city of Portlandmarker, Oregonmarker, and chronicles the events surrounding a school shooting, based in part on the 1999 Columbine High School massacremarker. The film takes place a short time before the shooting occurs, following the lives of several characters both in and out of school, who are unaware of what is about to unfold. The film stars mostly new or non-professional actors, including John Robinson, Alex Frost, and Eric Deulen.

This is the second movie in Gus Van Sant's Death Trilogy. The first is Gerry, and the third is Last Days; all three are based on actual events.

The film was generally acclaimed by critics and received the prestigious Palme d'Or at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival. As the first high-profile movie to address high school shootings since Columbine, the film was controversial for its subject matter and possible influence on teenage copy-cats.

Plot

The film opens with Mr. McFarland (Timothy Bottoms) driving erratically down a residential street on the way to drop off his son, John (John Robinson). John notices damage to the car and realizes that Mr. McFarland is drunk, so John instructs him to move to the passenger seat and let him drive. And with that, the responsibility is handed over from the parents to the kids for the rest of the movie.

The camera then follows students as they walk down the hallways, talk to friends, and go to class. Many characters are shown in long tracking shots that do not turn away. Alex (Alex Frost) and Eric (Eric Deulen) are shown being bullied at school by the so-called jocks, one of whom diverts a teacher and then throws a spitball at Alex during science class.

Later, Alex and Eric are shown at home ordering weapons from a website and receiving a rifle in the mail. While Alex is taking a shower, Eric gets in with him. He claims that he has never kissed anyone before, and the two kiss. The two are later shown formulating an attack plan. The next day, Alex and Eric prepare for the shooting, then make their way to school in silence in Alex's car.

After arriving at school, Alex and Eric encounter John outside and tell him to leave, as some "heavy shit's about to go down." Realizing what is about to happen, John attempts to warn others not to enter the school, to little effect. The two gunmen then enter the school, and after their plans to blow up parts of the school with propane bombs fail, begin shooting indiscriminately. Elias (Elias McConnell) photographs them entering the library where they open fire, shooting several students, including Michelle and presumably Elias.

Realizing that the gunfire is real, students now begin to panic, while teachers attempt to quickly evacuate everyone. The two boys separate, continuing their killing spree. Alex enters the bathroom where Brittany, Jordan, and Nicole are, presumably shooting all three.

As Eric is threatening the principal, Mr. Luce, in a hallway, Benny approaches Eric but is shot. Eric turns back to Luce and warns him not to mess with kids like Alex and himself. He then agrees to let the man go, only to gun him down seconds later.

Alex enters the cafeteria and sits down (where he has apparently already opened fire, as a body can be seen in the background). Eric meets up with him, and they have a brief conversation, which ends when Alex shoots Eric in mid-sentence. Alex then leaves the cafeteria, showing no emotion over shooting Eric, and discovers Carrie and Nathan in a freezer. He tauntingly recites Eeny, meeny, miny, moe to them to decide whom he should kill first. The film ends without resolution; the last shot is similar to the first, a cloudy blue sky.

Cast of characters

  • Alex Frost as Alex, the more intelligent of the two killers, implied to be the one in charge. He is an accomplished but frustrated pianist and sketch artist. He and Eric have a short love affair before the massacre, both citing the fact that they had never been kissed.
  • Eric Deulen as Eric, a slacker, Alex's friend, and the other killer. He is less intelligent than Alex, and Alex is obviously aware of this. He is shot in the chest by Alex near the end of the movie, while talking about whom he had killed prior.
  • John Robinson as John McFarland, Alex's friend who has trouble at school while managing his alcoholic father.
  • Timothy Bottoms as Mr. McFarland, John's alcoholic father.
  • Matt Malloy as Mr. Luce, the principal of the school. Cornered by Eric, who falsely spares him, he is presumed dead after shot several times.
  • Elias McConnell as Elias, an aspiring photography student building his portfolio with portraits of other students. Although not shown, he is presumed shot and killed in the library.
  • Nathan Tyson and Carrie Finklea as Nathan and Carrie, a popular lifeguard/football player and his girlfriend. At least one of the two is shot and probably killed when Alex corners them in the cafeteria meat locker. Alex taunts Eeny, meeny, miny, moe and it is unknown which one he shot, if the other survived, or if he proceeded to murder both teens.
  • Kristen Hicks as Michelle, a nerdy girl ashamed of her body. The film follows her through the locker room and into the library where she assists. She is the first to die during the massacre.
  • Brittany Mountain, Jordan Taylor, and Nicole George as Brittany, Jordan, and Nicole, three bulimic teenage girls who talk incessantly, gripe about parents, and squabble with one another. All are presumed shot and killed by Alex.
  • Alicia Miles as Acadia, a close friend of John and a member of the Gay-Straight Alliance. She is assumed to have a panic disorder which causes her to freeze and break down in times of fear or seriousness. During the shooting, Benny discovers her standing still in a classroom and helps her escape from the school and the shooters.
  • Bennie Dixon as Benny, an athletic student who helps Acadia escape out of a window before approaching Eric. He is shot and presumed dead after trying to help Mr. Luce.


Production

The film began as a television film that Van Sant had intended to make about the Columbine High School massacremarker; eventually, the idea of a factual account was dropped .

Elephant was filmed in Van Sant's hometown, Portlandmarker, Oregonmarker in late 2002, on the former campus of Whitaker Middle School (previously Adams High School). Whitaker was closed by the Portland Public Schools in 2001 due to structural problems and safety concerns with the school building. The Whitaker/Adams building, completed in 1969, was torn down in 2007.

The script was "written" to its final form during shooting, with cast members improvising freely and collaborating in the direction of scenes. The result is described by reviewers as "poetic" and "dreamlike," and by Van Sant himself as a rejection of conventional narrative, building on what he learned from work on Gerry .

JT LeRoy is credited as an associate producer for the film. JT is a pen name for author Laura Albert.

Supposedly, Van Sant first based this movie off a short story by Harmony Korine, who also wrote the scripts for Kids and Gummo .

Title

The title is a tribute to the 1989 BBC short film of the same name, directed by Alan Clarke. Van Sant originally believed Clarke's title referred to the story of several blind men trying to describe an elephant and each one drawing different conclusions based on which body part they were touching. Later, he found out that it was referring to the phrase "elephant in the room," a reference to the collective denial of some very obvious problem. Van Sant's film uses the earlier interpretation, as the same general timeline is shown multiple times from multiple viewpoints.

The earlier film reflects on sectarian violence in Northern Irelandmarker. Van Sant's minimalist style and use of tracking shots mirrors Clarke's film.

A drawing of an elephant as well as an image of an elephant on a throw on the bed can be seen in Alex's room, while he plays the piano.

North American premiere and release

Elephant premiered in North America at a benefit for the Outside In youth shelter in Portland, at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, in Portland, Oregonmarker, on Saturday, October 4, 2003, with several teenagers who appeared in the film in attendance.

The film was released for incremental distribution by HBO, in 100 theaters in the United Statesmarker, beginning October 24, 2003. English language release on DVD and VHS began on May 4, 2004.

The music of Beethoven, which was used in the film, is transposed up almost a full semitone (i.e. Moonlight Sonata mv.1 was played in Dm, and Für Elise was played in A#m).

Relationship to Red Lake High School massacre

The 2005 Red Lake High School Massacre was briefly blamed on the film Elephant as it was watched by gunman Jeff Weise 17 days prior to the shooting. A friend of Weise said that he brought the movie over to a friend's house and skipped ahead to parts that showed two students planning and carrying out a school massacre. Although they talked about the film afterwards, Weise said and did nothing to make anyone suspect what he was planning.

See also



References

  1. Lim, Dennis. "Film", Village Voice, 31 August 2004.
  2. Cowan, Noah. "Cannes 2003", filmmakermagazine.com
  3. Hancock, David. "Red Lake Shooting Conspiracy?", CBS/Associated Press, 30 March 2005.
  4. " Suspected Red Lake shooter watched movie about a school attack ." KTVO-TV.


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