Monday, November 22, 2004
Elephant: A film by Gus van Sant

Elephant

Take Me Out

Teens, disconnected from a life not in their
  control, look for a Big Feeling of their own making. Two find it in violence,
  extending a twisted valentine to a world caught in a trance and ready to
  be ‘taken out.’

Comments

1

Insightful analysis, very interesting.

The director’s use of dramatic irony consolidates this proposal: painfully aware of the eventual outcome, we can’t help but feel a certain inevitability. The banality of everyday life is somehow elevated by this inevitability; as Elias skilfully turns a canteen of chemicals in the darkroom, his actions are inexplicably moribund.

The numerous long tracking-shots enable the viewer to build a strong spatial familiarity with the school. By the time the killers unfold their map, the spectator is already aware of the building’s general layout.

Two events (John’s interaction with Elias, and with the dog in the car park) provide temporal-spatial landmarks relative to the onset of gunfire; as a result, as the multiple plot-lines move temporally and spatially around the environment, we find ourselves frantically trying to account for the characters we like. By granting us omnipotence- effectively the definition of dramatic irony- Van Sant escalates suspense; the spectator finds him or herself reeling from anticipated gunshots: “Keep going! Keep going… No! Don’t turn left! Nooooo!”

I find the choice of music interesting as it is very similar to that enjoyed by Alex’s namesake in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Both films seem, to some extent, play with and question the assumption that culture can be ‘civilising’; both characters inflict random, unprovoked attacks on bystanders despite demonstrating a deep and considered love of the arts- and Beethoven in particular. The reforming technique condemned in A Clockwork Orange is named the “Ludvico Method”- a play on Beethoven’s first name; Alex externalizes his frustration at a failed-recital by raising his middle fingers at the tablature.

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