Comparing the Film Elephant, and the Columbine Massacre
Analysis The film Elephant, by Gus Van Sant is often compared to the events of the Columbine Massacre, however not directed connected, Van Sant has admitted it to be the topic behind it. Watching this as though it was a depiction of the event, I did not feel that it acted as a recount. I would compare the film to a badly plagiarized essay, all the details were correct, but some main points were nowhere to be found. I would also think that this movie was trying to stir up some more controversy over the event than was there, and the end almost showed a favour of one of the killers by the writer.
Some parts of the film were done quite well since it was supposed to be a fairly realistic movie. Elephant was not badly done, only in the sense of what it’s supposed to relate to. This film could easily be seen as the biggest coincidence. Despite different names, locations, and circumstance there were tiny details that were kept to a T. In Elephant, the subtly, but still notify you of dates and times, the boys arrive to the school around 11 in both the movie, and in the actual event. They also show the clocks several times during the shootings, and just as the true events they end with the spree around 12:10.
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In the film they also have a moment when they’re going over all the final plans and making sure everything is ready, during this they list all the guns that each other will have with them. The guns they list are the same as the guns they had for the actually massacre, minus a few that were added for dramatic influence. A really heart warming part of the movie to me was when Alex and Eric first walked up to the school and ran into John. When he asked what they were doing Alex replied “just leave, stuff’s going down” as a warning to save John’s live.
However, later when I did some deeper research, it turns out that before Dylan and Eric began to enter the school they ran into a long time acquaintance, Brooks Brown, and also warned him to leave, as to save him. One of the oddest similarities was something they had caught Eric doing on the security tapes in the cafeteria. Upon returning to the cafeteria at the end of the rampage, Eric sat down and took a sip from a cup left on a table in the chaos, the exact same is seen in Elephant. These comparisons, by themselves seem like random accidents, however seen together you can see how obviously it’s based on Columbine.
However, despite the large number of these coincidences, there’s a large number of huge inaccuracies, which may have been added just to differentiate this from a documentary, or retelling of the event. They may have also been added to create a higher level of controversy, or even Van Sant’s personal bias. Despite feeling as though he did not fit in, or was different, Eric Harris was well liked, and actually fairly popular at Columbine. He often had dates, and was known to be able to get pretty much anything he wanted.
In the film they depict him as been bullied often, an obvious outsider, and knowing few people. Another large addiction to the film which has been debated, and proven incorrect many times, was the scene calling them homosexuals. Although it is not technically proving they’re gay, it does have a scene where both the boys admit to never kissing anyone, then proceeding to shower together. If they had stuck to the truth of how Eric wasn’t actually unpopular, and had many girlfriends, they wouldn’t have said to have never kissed anyone, and the controversy wouldn’t have to begin.
Lastly is the ending, in Elephant, we they meet in the cafeteria at the end they have Alex shoot Eric, instead of the double suicide of the two boys. I still cannot decide whether this is showing the seniority Eric did have over Dylan during the true events, or whether Van Sant just had a personal bias for Alex in the film. It’s hard to understand why they made such extreme change to concept, but they do help it seem as though it’s just another school shooting. Some aspects of this film were done extremely well. First off, they hired all amateur, and nonprofessional actors for this film.
I think this really helped with the impact of the film because there was no emotional distance when a character you connected with was shot. If it had been Brad Pitt, and Jennifer Aniston playing these roles you’d end up seeing it as just another death scene. A little known fact is that the majority of Elephant was improvised. This helped the film become more realistic and relatable, as they spoke as people, not actors. This film was loosely based on the Columbine tragedy, however I feel the ways they chose to relate them were not the best choices.
By sticking to all the correct details, and just changing the grand scheme it is as though you are just copying it to your liking. The other addictions that Gus Van Sant made were mostly controversial, as opposed to adding emotions, or connection to it, they added the “Hollywood” aspects. Small details that would cause people to talk about it. I do feel as though certain choices he made about the casting, and filming did help add a connection aspect that otherwise would have been lost. Overall this film did not portray the event truly, however it did allow you to be affected by it as most victims were.