Dear Gus Van Sant,
Thank you for making ‘Elephant’. This was a brave, sensitive, memorable work. I can see where you were coming from. Clearly, like so many of us, you were crushed by the horrifying school massacres that took place in America.
Gus, you had already established a successful career as a filmmaker having directed such successful films as ‘Good Will Hunting’ and ‘Drugstore Cowboy’. As an artist you wanted to make a film that explored the whole energy and world behind such catastrophic events. You wanted to make a film that hit people in the guts.
With ‘Elephant’ you came up with an original treatment. I loved the way, and I think this is why your film worked, you juxtaposed the ordinariness of the schoolies and their school day with the satanic, bizarre mentality of their two colleagues and killers who were destined to live out a vengeful video game fantasy.
I loved your human, frail characters. You seemed to size them up so well. The dorky girl, picked on by the physical education teacher, ends up working in the library… The budding young photographer stopping a young couple in a park to grab some great pics and then developing them in the school photo lab…The popular, good looking blonde guy who is burdened by a father who has a major drinking problem. He has to take over the driver’s wheel when his father drives all over the road when taking him to school.
The three trendy, pretty schoolgirls, in their late teens, carrying on a treat, having a tiff over what true loyalty and friendship is, over lunch at the cafeteria, and then going into the toilets, and throwing up their food, because of bulimia.
Your ‘picture’ of the two killers is speculative but interesting. You saw them as spoilt, bored, middle class, listless adolescents who had no reality check on their violent impulses. Their sexuality was confused which also may have led to some of their inner turmoil.
Gus, I wish you didn’t have one of the guys, Eric, play the piano before going on his killing spree. Eric’s playing of Beethoven’s ‘Fur Elise’ has spoilt that beautiful tune for me forever!
I thought the slow moving, intense nature of the film worked. The way that you followed each of the main characters around, with the camera lingering behind them, worked well. In each case it felt as if the audience was experiencing the world through their eyes.
The switching of viewpoints also worked well, as you went from one characters perspective on the day to another’s.
Gus, one of the stand-out scenes was your long shot of the school sports field with all the schoolies playing excitedly. It was such a scene of peace, compared to the later sad events.
How did I feel when the inevitable climax happened?! Gutted. Above all, there was this sense of loss, of a huge waste! All those bright young lives lost, because of two out of control colleagues.