On April 20, 1999, in Littleton, Colorado, the worst school massacre in American history took place at Columbine High School. The attack was perpetrated by two kids who were social outcasts in their school, and felt that the only way they could get even and send a message was to march into school armed with guns and bombs and kill everyone and anyone who got in their way. Now here we have Elephant, a film that depicts an eerily similar, but fictitious, day at a high school that might be any high school in our country.
This film's brilliance is in its simplicity. The camera follows around normal kids as they do what normal kids do on any normal school day: they go to class, eat lunch in the cafeteria, and talk about boys and girls and birds and bees. Only, when a pair of boys show up toting black bags and dressed in camouflage, we know this is no ordinary day.
Elephant does not tell a story; it simply observes. The long tracking shots follow different kids around as they walk through the halls and say "hey" to their friends, or eat lunch and talk about what they'll do after school, or how much they hate their parents because they won't let them do anything.
And all the while, the suspense builds, because we know what's coming, and these are nice kids, some of them a little shallow maybe, but kids with good intentions, with bright futures that are about to be crushed because inevitably some kids are less popular than others, and can't handle it.
So what about the killers themselves? They're uncool. They sit in class and get junk thrown at them by the cool kids - the jocks - and don't say anything. Their anger builds inside while their faces show indifference. They watch programs about Hitler, and play video games where the goal is to kill people with a shotgun. Is this why they chose to kill? The movie doesn't say; it observes these things happen. And we observe it too, and we wonder.
February 26, 2005