You’re walking like a king, surveying your territory, access to every privilege and fine maiden is granted. You’re a cute high school boy wearing a red sweatshirt and girls get woozy with your approach.
You’re walking with sunken shoulders, your chin touching your chest, your ears ringing with insults hurled quietly in locker rooms. You’re a homely high school girl reprimanded by her teacher for wearing long pants to class. You’re walking silently down pea-green hallways with a camera around your neck, taking pictures of punk rock couples and a towheaded boy whose dad can’t drive you to school because he’s drunk.
You’re walking up to school on a beautiful day with duffel bags and knapsacks and covered in camouflage from head to toe. You’re going to kill as many people as you can today.
Gus Van Sant’s latest film Elephant is all about walking. The film follows its young cast as they walk through their insipid high school journey. Walking toward their tormentors, toward their lovers, toward the bathroom where they will vomit their lunches into the commode so they can keep their firm, young asses in the most fashionable jeans.
The fascinating and beautiful aspect of Elephant is how Van Sant creates a film with almost unbearable tension from the very beginning by displaying the mundane, the banal of the everyday. I wasn’t being poetic when I said the film deals with walking. The camera walks right behind the actors, breathing down their necks, following them from classroom to lunchroom to practice field. The noise is muted, with disturbing quietness in the hallways when classes are in session. Anyone who went to high school will recognize that silence, that tension, that paranoia that bounces off the trophy cases. Something feels wrong, but everything looks OK. Just like it did yesterday. Just like it has your whole life. But today is different. Some of you will be shot, some in cold blood. Others probably have a good guess why that kid with the backward baseball cap is pointing an automatic weapon at your head. Remember throwing that oatmeal in his hair? Remember ramming him into the lockers to impress all those girls who were drooling over your varsity jacket?
You’ve read and seen all there is to read and see about the Columbine High School slaughter, but this film will make you “feel” it, perhaps helping you understand something that is always lacking in the way modern media tell a story, getting to the truth. It is Van Sant’s distant, cold, yet wonderfully artistic approach to this material that will dare you to understand. Everything just happens … like it always does. The walking, the talking, the pumpkins on the TV set, “Fur Elise” being played on a basement piano by a boy who will shoot up his school in a couple hours. Mundane. Cold. Boring. Horrific.
It is a terrifying, beautiful thing to witness.
Showing exclusively at the Main Art Theatre. Call 248-263-2111.
Dan DeMaggio writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].