Director: Gus van Sant
Stars: John Robinson, Alex Frost, Eric Deulen
Available on DVD - order here
Funny, isn’t it, how a deafening roar of gay activist outrage attended Matthew Shepard’s murder but nary a whisper was heard from gay circles less than a year later, when rumours of homosexuality swirled around the perpetrators of the Columbine school massacre.
Whether Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who killed 12 students, one teacher, and themselves, and wounded 23 others in a shooting rampage at their Colorado school on April 20, 1999, were actually homosexual is beside the point. Gayness lurks and snakes through their whole bloody story.
The pair had been taunted for years as “gay”, and “queer”. The “Trench Coat Mafia”, with which they were associated, were a schoolyard gang of Goth-geeks who were seen as sexually suspect – one of them allegedly taunted jocks with fey behaviour, fake kisses and professions of his love for them. Secretive friends, Harris and Klebold kept clandestine counsel and were rumoured to have shared kisses and held hands with each other. After the massacre, local police warned Denver gay leaders to “lay low” about reports that Harris had confessed to a counsellor and three students that he thought he may be gay.
This homo shadow of Columbine is amplified by Gus Van Sant in his great masterpiece, Elephant. Substantial screen time of this relatively short film is devoted to a meeting of the school’s gay-straight alliance, and the killers share a tongue kiss in the shower together before they set off on their killing spree.
Elephant takes an anti-Laramie Project approach by not drawing neat psychological lines around its characters, and dividing them up into hermetic teams of the good, the evil and the homophobically-misguided. As the looping, cascading story takes shape, we get a chill sense of foreboding but aren’t sure who’s going to do something vengeful: a trio of bulimic girls, a misfit frizzy-haired dork, or the near albino son-of-an-alcoholic.
The really scary thing about American teenagers is that they have heaps of time and resources, freedoms that extend to buying mail-order sub-machine guns which can be delivered to your under-age door, and nothing much else to do but stare at each other. For the most part, Elephant bumps around in this mundane day-to-day, conspicuously returning to the same action, filmed from a different angle, or from a different viewpoint. The film generates a jarring sense of terror by sneakily observing the lethal calibrations of hormones & desire, boredom & tension.