I love movies where I feel like I am among the characters. This was certainly that sort of film. Gus Van Sant must have meant it that way in that there appears to be no agenda presented on how we can stop school shootings. But the shootings are there nonetheless. We track several students and a few teachers and parents going about their morning. Little is explained as everything the director wants us to see is merely shown. This was not an easy film to watch but I like how it allowed me to see inside a school shooting and draw my own conclusions. Nothing was shoved down my throat.

Elephant (2003)
R | 1h 21min | Crime, Drama, Thriller | 14 November 2003 (USA)
Several ordinary high school students go through their daily routine as two others prepare for something more malevolent.
Director: Gus Van Sant
Writer: Gus Van Sant
Stars: Elias McConnell, Alex Frost, Eric Deulen

I couldn’t give this film anything less than a 9/10 because it is so powerful and so halting. The director Gus Van Sant, who we know as the director of “Good Will Hunting,” has made a piece of art that shows us what a school shooting scenario looks like. This could be used in think tanks as official people look for solutions and ways to conduct preparation drills. It is just a little more than a blank canvas, we pour our own meaning into it.

The director shows us the shooters at home getting their semi-automatic rifle delivered and then practicing shooting in the garage with no parents at home. He shows the leader playing beautiful piano while the other surfs the web for more guns. But the movie shows plenty of ways and extended moments where armed teachers or staff could take out the killers. In other words, the point of view is not limited to conservative or liberal. Like I said, no solutions are given, it’s not meant that way. If interested you can look at my review of another Van Sant film that works the same way: not a case study just a case of a juvenile to look at. That film is Paranoid Park.

The actors are all unknown to me. I did recognize the drunk dad though he has a small part. I read that Van Sant made enough money off of directing “Good Will Hunting” that he could enjoy the freedom of making non-commercial films. Shouldn’t every successful director see it that way? He has given the world an amazing case to study and come up with its own individualized solutions. This film came out in 2003 and it is made to mirror Columbine. In the years since its release, we’ve suffered so many more school shootings it’s frightening.

Watch this film with high schoolers and ages up from there. It is not for kids younger than that. Have a conversation based on this film. It is an amazing piece. So, why did I give it a 9/10 and not a perfect score? Probably because it truly offers very little hope. I for one would have enjoyed it more if there were some. Perhaps I’m asking too much. My other 9 points I granted it say the rest. I recommend this film 9/10.

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