Dreamlike realism is the chief characteristic of this 2003 production I recently rented from Video Journeys.
Director Gus Van Sant's camera haunts the mundane toils of several young people whose lives intersect at Columbine high school, on April 20th 1999. With the combination of the use of a ghost-like pov -most of the film is spent in enduringly held long-takes while following just 2 steps behind each person. This film manages to move from a place of quiet to a terrifyingly real account of the mass-carnage de jour. The mood is furthered by an often abstract musical score -like Sonic Youth playing live inside a sinking ship, overheard by a whale. Also there is some Ludwig Van Beethoven.
Elephant's starkly convincing sense of the real is cemented through a stylistic detachment. With unselfconscious poise and 'searching' voyeurism the story meditates the shocking countdown, recontextualizing it at eye level. From the outset, Elephant' use of an 'objective' perspective was inventive, hypnotically suggesting such a sense of truth. This sense was reinforced in a surprising way for me when during the peak of the action of the film each characters frame seems to shrink finally, but without really doing so. Without a zoom or cut to close-up, it was as if the negative space, like in a painting, was suddenly conjured up and signaled as being tantamount to all else. This overwhelming sense of an other or negative space surrounding and surpassing the tedious and serious existence of these characters had signaled to my mind something modestly on pare with the smallest understanding of the human entanglement involved in this real moment -the real thing on the real day in real life. I was left thinking of how that which was cropped and left out from the films' perspective, like in close-up, only lends an even greater realism. In this way the film attempts to address the very issue of its making, of reconstructing memory and of human consequence.
For another experience of this all too real' and wrenching historical node see Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine. That film gives a greater topical and piercing analysis of this event in detail and in context to U.S. Empyreal Violence and deeper cultural history (i.e. 'manifest destiny') in reference to the national psyche -in pop terms.
Elephant remembers the ambience of real shock and awe.... and never forgets. There is a deeply sad silver-lining in these clouds shone in the reflection of the great beauty of the sky, that of youth and youthful desire and direness, pale and clear in shallow water as on a battlefield. This film is offered as a gift to the living world.