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Gus Van Sant’s Vision of Columbine

Going to school is not that safe as most of the parents may think. Especially after the row of events followed by the horrible shooting in Columbine where the two initiators, both high school students, committed a suicide after killing some of their innocent schoolmates. Those two headshots marked an epoch of increased security in all educational institutions of the United States.

The worst thing is that two guys did not have any motives. Gus Van Sant’s Vision of Columbine-1Who knows if their dysfunctional behavior was provoked by the cruel shooting games or odious metal bands they were listening to. Anyway, for cinematography, that event opened a range of new ideas and opportunities. From Estonian “Klass” to American “Elephant”, the theme of school violence remains relevant even today.

In this article, we will teach you how to analyze movie in details as a part of Visual Arts and Design class. Also, we will explore how the director reflected the tragedy of those days in full.

“Based on real events…” This sort of movie’s prologue always arouses butterflies in my stomach. Probably, I wouldn’t stay so impressed after watching “Elephant” by Gus Van Sant if it weren't inspired by the real Columbine High School massacre.

Concerning my impressions, I was scared to death, not by the murders, but the way guys behaved: no mercy, no bitterness, and, what’s more freaky, no good motivation. However, I can’t say that the film seems dramatic to me. Perhaps, because of the lack of violence and blood. It’s too much complicated, like getting stuck in some labyrinth.

Frankly speaking, some episodes like the endless search of the main characters for their identity made me yawn. I enjoyed the beginning and the closing part only.

Van Sant’s film is very dreamy and unspecific. Sometimes I felt like watching documentary dedicated to insignificant teens problems and how a school premise should be planned. The watcher basically deals with location and educational environment. Before the scene in a library with that girl where the action begins, it takes about an hour to wait with the bated breath. All the movie details are made to feel like salvaged objects from the Titanic.

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The primary goal of the movie director was to deliver the threat coming from two guys carrying some weapon through such elements as lighting, composition, sound, and other shooting techniques. The feeling of reality is supported by the documentary style of screening. With the help of camera and color, Gus expresses the life and its end by involving a view of the sky on the first plan. In the end, the edge disappears over its pole. It alarms “edge one life was cut”.

It was a wise decision to apply blue color: it calms dawn and makes worry at the same time. Later, darker colors are used to allude for the tragedy.

The upcoming storm is a symbol of following the massacre. Gus Van Sant’s Vision of Columbine-3In this picture, “elephant” rather refers to camera technique rather than to an animal. It’s about a composition that follows the characters throughout the entire movie. It helps to reach realism. From all the movements, the director chooses slowdowns to stress the quotidian scenes. The single flashback is used to highlight the primary plotline of the film, which is a massive murder by two killers. Another trick I’ve noticed is replaying the same scene three times (meeting with Elias and John). It is done to make us feel desperate. Also, outstanding lighting suffuses this motion picture with frequently soft and understated naturalistic sources. They range from majestic deserts to institutional hallways and murky interiors. High-angle compositions are involved. The art of soundscape composition I the best part as far as it reflects the dramatic side of the entire story best of all.

I heard the movie film sneered at for its "art house" approach. But I cannot disagree with this point. This movie is too calm, like a clinical shock, American post-effect silent reaction to real events. I would recommend watching Finnish “Class” by Ilmar Raag. There you can at least find some motif and even empathize the main hero.

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