Gus Van Sant’s Elephant

WHEN GUS VAN SANT’S ELEPHANT was awarded the Palme d’Or at Cannes last May, it was taken by some Americans on the scene as a backhanded gesture. At a festival haunted by echoes of European-American tensions over the war in Iraq it was hardly surprising that the honoring of yet another movie about the Columbine massacre (a year after the same prize had gone to Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine) might look like a deliberate statement about America as seen through European eyes: psychotic, gun-crazy, on the edge of meltdown. The irony is that, judged as a movie about the Columbine shootings, Elephant comes up fairly empty; it has little to offer in the way of analysis or explanation, and one is left with nothing but the same numb response produced by the original newscasts of the event: It happened, it was horrible.

Passing moments in the movie suggest explanations beyond that brutal

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