Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Saw Gus Van Sant's Elephant, which I conclude was a brilliant mistake. Not to say I wasn't warned by the reviews, but this is really half a movie.

The subject is essentially the Columbine high school shooting here in Colorado, though no place is specifically mentioned in the movie.

This movie is all about the vibe. It's 80 minutes long, and for most of it, we follow the students around, experiencing the tedium and banality of their day. By the time the shooting starts, it does have the (probably) intended effect of conveying the complexity of dismay and terror felt.

But then it spliffs it by essentially ending in mid-note. Had this had some semblance of an ending - and it could have been as non-conclusive as the actual current "ending" is - this would have been a minor event of a film.

If you want to see a movie that achieves the atmosphere it's going for, and you're an aficionado of experimental (but ultimately a failed experiment), I recommend it halfheartedly. If you wanna see a good movie, see something else.

Read Ubik by the acclaimed sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, who wrote the stories that gave us the movies Bladerunner, Total Recall, Minority Report, Paycheck, and the upcoming A Scanner Darkly.

He's never been known as a great stylist, and this book supports that assertion. Man, his stuff is hard to plow through. I only acquiesced because it was on Time's list of 100 best novels, like, ever. I admit, he's a hell of an idea man, but he writes like crep.

I didn't enjoy the novel primarily because the jacket copy completely gives away what's going on (and secondarily due to the bad writing). When the big plot twist occurred, I thought, oh, they all must have [blah de blah], because it says so on the cover.

It would have been an interesting twist had it not been spoiled.

Still, wait for the movie if they ever make one.

The best thing I've seen lately was Madagascar. Very amusing. The plot telegraphs coming complications from a mile away, but the execution saves it.

And it gets the award for the best ever use of the line, "Well this sucks."

Check it out.


Anonymous said...

Dude! Don't be hatin' on Elephant. It was a thoroughly excellent film that achieved exactly what it intended. It shows what Columbine was like from the students' perspectives. The boredom, the fear, the confusion - it's all there, as you noted, though you failed to grasp the one perfectly good reason why the film ends in mid-note: because the real event ended in mid-note for the kids who were there. The ones who didn't get shot were running like hell away from the school and had no idea what was happening inside afterwards. The film conveyed this exactly as it should have.

I agree about Philip Dick: amazingly good ideas; amazingly bad prose. It's worth noting that the movie Blade Runner was considerably different than the book that inspired it, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep." The book has a lot of confusing extra plot elements that contribute nothing to the fundamental story - the screenwriters did a good job of filtering a mediocre novel to make an excellent film.

Yahmdallah said...

I completely agree with your interp. of "Elephant", and I did get everything you mention - even why it ends in mid-note. Still, I think there could have been a better ending out there somewhere. Tragedy (even that base on real events) has complex rules for catharsis, and I like it better when they're met.

Agreed on electric sheep. Decker (sp?) was such a weenie in the book.

yahmdallah said...

I thought of a frinstance in a way to end the movie...


Rather than have the last shooter doing eenie, meenie, minee, moe thing - or in addition to it - have him come around a corner or something, point the gun at the camera and fire. Further, when the gun fires, the frame goes black and all that you see is the muzzle flash. That would've accomplished the same thing, but been a better end note, imnsho.

jult52 said...

You're right that "Elephant" has flaws, but it was still a brilliant, memorable film which I'll always remember. It brings the teenage experience to life vividly and poignantly -- the juxtaposition of the nerd-library-girl's brief, ecstatic taking in of the morning at the beginning of the film with her socially oppressed existence in the school -- what can I say? -- it's just great.

I thought the weird way in which Fur Elise, Reifenstahl (sp? through the clouds) and homoeroticism are brought together is one of many inspired touches. Another one is taking the trio of "power females" and showing the tensions in their relationship. Making three-dimensional humans out of a situation with a strong potential for stereotypes is a hallmark of art, and "Elephant" does it again. And the jigsaw puzzle of plot lines is a welcome departure from most movie storytelling.

A great film. Sorry to disagree :)

yahmdallah said...

Ok, Ok, you guys are making me relent. I had temporarily forgotten that library geek girl, whom I fell in love with immediately. Yes, she was a diamond, and I think her character is perhaps the other center of the film, besides the blonde kid with the drunk dad. (Which also reminds me of another thought I had - T. Bottoms must not get work because of his uncanny resemblance to George W. It was mui creepy.)