The Best Films of the Decade: #4 02/25/2010
The first decade of our young century has come to a close. During that time the world around us has changed rapidly, and cinema has changed with it. Mainstream filmmaking continues to go down a dark path, moving ever closer to an event-style industry with no perception of "art". Meanwhile the cinema is ennobled all over the world by artists who reject or beat the studio system. As strong as ever, if you look in the right places, the art form thrives. For the next 10 days, I'll be counting down the 10 greatest films of the decade...
Directed by Gus Van Sant
In Elephant, Gus Van Sant reconstructs a school shooting similar to the Columbine High School Massacre. He does so without turning it into a traditional drama or a typical retelling of a true event. Rather, Van Sant creates a day like any other at a typical high school. Instead of giving the audience simple and worthless solutions, he carefully observes several of the students as they engage in mundane everyday activities. It is in this relentless normalcy that the filmmaker makes his point.
Countless times we journey through the hallways with long tracking shots. Through Van Sant’s camera, some intangible truth becomes present. The restriction of mindless routine clashing with the spirit of youth. We spend time with many different characters, following them throughout their day. We see them make their way to school, attending class, eating in the cafeteria, gossiping, laughing. The students are treated with such delicacy by the filmmaking, that we become inexplicably attached to characters that are hardly developed. Van Sant gives us one of the best portraits of adolescence in the cinema, exposing the confused innocence and the beauty of his figures.
Throughout the day there are heroes, victims and those who never see it coming. The one character who has a drunken father who drives him to school is actually one of the more endearing figures; not one of the killers, but one of those who ends up saving others. Van Sant knows the audience wants answers, but he refuses to provide them. The two killers have no obvious motive. Van Sant finds no cause and effect logic. The camera treats the killers like every other character, and while it is impossible to come to an understanding of their offense, perhaps we can gleam some understanding of their pain. As they murder their peers, they persist without mercy. Before they set off to school, they kiss and embrace in a shower, one last chance to feel.
In one scene, the two killers are hanging out in a basement. One of them plays a computer game while the other plays the Moonlight Sonata on a piano. The camera circles around the room and if you look closely, you will find the drawing of an elephant on the wall. The elephant in the room is that this day is just like any other, and tomorrow another one just like it starts.