America needs to see Elephant, Gus van Zant's controversial new film about the Columbine shootings, if not to be engaged by it, then to bitch about it.
I was engaged. In Elephant, I saw a gracefully twisted turn of time and perspective, a long, grounded gaze at real life broken by the hypnotic pulse of a high school death march. Others saw a movie "too mundane for its subject matter" or "pointless at best and irresponsible at worst."
In spite of its alleged aimlessness, Elephant has created a furor. Why? Because for some, art is open-ended. For others, art needs to provide a reason and a solution in order to be good. When Elephant—an enigmatic film about a contentious subject—won the Palme D'or and Best Director awards at the Cannes Film Festival, the cultural war line between Ironics and Literalists had again been drawn.
Scott Foundas, in a review that appeared here ("Elephant Boys," Oct. 31), is among the Literalists. On first viewing, he called Elephant "a repugnant act of pedantry." More recently, he's convinced that the movie "seeks to explain, even reassure, by employing the same methods as the evening news—namely, by doing everything it can to transform these wayward kids into some distant, aberrant other."
Oh, Scott. If we shadows have offended, think but this and all is mended:
Americans rarely speak TO their culture. For the most part, we're spoken BY it. Hollywood tells us we need resolve—reason and solution—in our movies. Anything else would make us French.
In response, Elephant lets us speak—its final scene closing with the nursery rhyme "Einie meanie mienie mo."