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Burnin’ that Gasoline…to stay warm

October 2, 2011

All right, so.  Primarily, I want to focus on the film Elephant and what Bassett had to say regarding it, particularly regarding the film being interactive.  Also, I’m still holding true to my tradition of titling my posts after Soundgarden or Audioslave songs.  Sorry.

Anyway, first some initial thoughts on Elephant.  If I remember correctly, I’ve never seen any movies by this director, so I’m going into this film with no bias and no previous knowledge except that it’s supposed to be a Columbine-esque plot.  I took some issue with the narrative structure (or lack thereof); primarily because the film shifts focus from several different characters without accounting for any sort of passage of time.  Sure, certain characters cross paths in various ways, overlapping in that respect; but, otherwise, the film really has no sense of time about it.  I felt that to be jarring, especially if there’s a story to tell.  Call me old-fashioned, but if I watch/read/play something, I want it to have a cohesive narrative so that I can understand what’s going on.  To use Memento as an example, I could understand the progression (or regression) of the story just fine because events were made relevant by their context.  With Elephant, we don’t really get that.  To my knowledge, apart from simply being somewhat disgruntled, the two boys that go on their rampage are doing this just because.  There’s no real motive that I can tell or discern from the narrative that is presented to us.  The only clue we’re given is by the blonde attacker (I don’t really remember any of the names of the characters) when he tells the principle not to mess with kids like him anymore; this is precious little to go on.  Was the boys’ watching of the Nazi documentary supposed to be some sort of clue?  If so, then it wasn’t elaborated or expanded upon.  It felt like, when it came to these boys, we started in medias res.  While that trope can certainly be effective, context is usually given for it; I’m thinking of Homer’s The Iliad as an example.

So, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I don’t exactly buy into Bassett’s assertion that Elephant is interactive.  If there’s no way for the audience to do anything with the movie apart from try and establish a cohesive timeline, how is it still interactive?  If anything, Bassett is trying to say, in my opinion, that we’re implicit in the actions of the characters: it is because our society is the way it is (in terms of violence, apathy, etc.) that caused this incident.  I don’t buy into this assertion as well.  To think back to the Butterfly Effect from chaos theory (sensitive dependence on initial conditions), each person is going to respond differently because each person has their own experience to draw upon which shapes their judgements.  Sure, societal impact is part of it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that because war is everywhere and I play violent video games, I’m going to buy an assault rifle and shoot up my school.  It depends on the person and their initial conditions that will have an effect on the outcome.

That’s about all I have for now.  So, in the meantime, to try and explain the Butterfly Effect a bit more, I’ll leave you guys with this link, allowing the game EVE Online to describe it better than I can: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08hmqyejCYU

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One Comment
  1. I think Bassett might be calling the film “Interactive” in the way the audience makes meaning/constructs a narrative out of the events displayed. By leaving the traditional narrative arc and conventional characterization out of the film, it forces the audience to decide what these filmed events really mean (if anything). In the majority of films, the characterization/story arc are made explicit and can even be heavy handed at times. This encourages a passive spectatorship. I watch a movie. The movie tells me everything I need to know about the events and the characters in the movie. I understand the movie. Elephant kind of pushes this approach to the side. When we’re not privy to the complicated motivations behind a Columbine-esque school shooting, we’re invited to make sense of it ourselves. It’s like the film put the events on the table, and threw up its hands and walked away. It’s a bit more engaging than the top-down/film-to-viewer transfer of meaning that we’re used to. Sometimes things just happen.
    -Tony

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