It’s always a risk with a film about a school shooting, but it was still creepy to surface from watching Elephant to hear about events in Montreal. As with the shooters in the film we’re still at the stage with yesterday’s events where we don’t really know or understand what drove a man to walk into a school and kill one and injure nineteen others.
Elephant doesn’t offer any explanation for the two young gunmen. Sure they play violent (but very simple looking) video games, have a fascination for guns and watch a documentary on Hitler whilst waiting for their weapons to arrive. They’re also gay, or at the very least experimenting, and one is a fairly talented pianist. However, these factors are given as much weight as the fact that one of their schoolmates is a keen photographer and another has a drunken father. They might be important or they might not, it’s up to the viewer to decide.
The film’s style is non-mainstream. Long tracking shots follow characters as they walk the halls and go about their everyday lives. More than once we loop back to see a scene from a different perspective. For an hour we’re getting to know a little about these kids, like we’re watching some sort of documentary. But the viewer knows what is coming and, as with the old school ensemble disaster movies, can’t help but wonder who will live and who will die. That their troubles are, mostly, so trivial makes them more real than having a gang of OC types with story arcs that can only be resolved by the sudden arrival of a skinny geek with a Tec-9.
Overall, not for someone who wants to be told why America’s youth keep killing each other or is looking for slick storytelling and pat characterisation. However, if you want something more this is for you.