The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Elephant’: A film you won’t soon forget

Meeg Conroy | Tuesday, March 2, 2004

It’s been almost five years since the tragic events in Littleton, Colo. at Columbine High School, but the memory and impact of those events still live on. Through similar events depicted in both books and films, society continues to deal with the issue of school violence. In 2003, director Gus Van Sant released Elephant, a film commenting on high school violence that won the best picture and best director awards at the prestigious 2003 Cannes Film Festival. His film brings the audience back to high school to try to understand how and why we react to violence. Van Sant looks at how explanations are made and scapegoats created.Elephant is set in a small high school located in Portland, Ore., where Van Sant lives. Completely furnished with the archetypal jock, nerd, popular girl and goth, the film brings the audience back to the pressures of high school. We can remember the same jocks with lettermen jackets, the same nerds with Ti-83 calculators, and the same girls dressed in the latest fashions. Maybe a little less familiar to some are the quiet, distant students – the kids who always kept to themselves, living in a world as dark as their exterior. In Elephant, Alex Frost and Eric Deulen exhibit these qualities.Within the plot’s 48 hours, Van Sant looks at the social and family lives of Alex and Eric. The film unfolds on an ordinary day, filled with the usual class work, gossip and socializing common in high school. The film observes its characters from a removed distance and for each student we meet, high school is a different experience.Van Sant forces the audience to consider the common motives of “violent children” such as poor parenting, neo-nazism and violent video games. The audience is challenged to decide why these boys kill – and, on a larger scale, why anyone kills. The film does not try to boldly provide a single answer for the problem of school violence but rather deals with the issue through multiple perspectives.This film helps audiences reevaluate school violence and its ongoing impact on society. Although Columbine may have occurred over 4 years ago, issues of school violence continue to persist across the globe, the country and even in South Bend, raising various questions. And as Van Sant suggests with his film, there may not be a definitive answer. It’s usually impossible to allocate just one cause for violent actions. Humanity, as Van Sant shows, is unpredictable. The only things that can be attributed to all issues of school violence are their destructive psychological and emotional power and the need to prevent them.Elephant runs 81 minutes and will be shown at 7 p.m. tomorrow evening in Carey Auditorium, located in the Hesburgh Library. This film is part of the ND Cinema series and is sponsored by the Film, Television and Theatre department.