GUS VAN SANT’S new film Elephant takes its lead from events leading up to the Columbine massacre. Here he and writers DBC Pierre and Blake Morrison discuss the rights and wrongs of fictionalising the horror of kids killing kids. Words: Paul Dale Additional material: Richard Mowe
ornething happened here. It‘s difficult to know when it all changed. Sometime after Elliot locked away his ﬂying bike to enjoy a fevered tug around the back of the shed. or was it when The .S'impsons began on prirnetirne television? Who knows when the media profile of your average small-town American schoolkid shifted from a lunch box-clutching innocent to a weapons- obsessed loner who finds it difficult to differentiate a platform on the computer game Quake frorn a stroll down a sterile school hallway. The spirit of Herod has risen among America‘s teenagers while their parents were sleeping and no one knows who to blame; retribution for the death of a child in a nation of gun owners and libertarians is hard to come by. Gus Van Sant. the filmmaker who is to Portland. Oregon what John Waters is to Baltimore. Maryland. has made a new film called Elephant. You may have heard of it: it won the Palme l)‘()r at Cannes last year. It is named after a IOX‘) BBC
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film by the late. great British polernicist Alan (‘larke (Scion. Made in Britain). (‘larke‘s film depicted Northern Ireland‘s sectarian violence as a relentless. anonymous march of murders — a problem. as the saying goes. that is as easy to ignore as ‘an elephant in the living room‘. Van Sant's lz'lephanr creates a similar spectre of child-on-child violence. It is one of quite a few recent books and films to take the events of the 2()th April 199‘) — when liric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into (‘olumbine High School. Littleton. (‘olorado armed to the teeth with explosives and guns with the express intention of picking off fellow students one by one — and use them as the basis fora work of fiction.
Unlike John [5 Murphy Jr‘s excellent book account of that diseased day: The Day of Reckoning: The .i/Ius‘s‘ur're a! (‘olumliine High School. Van Sant has no interest in answering the question why (Murphy surrnises it was probably a mixture of White Power movement fetishism. an unhealthy obsession with the computer games The Matrix and NaIH/‘ul Born Killers and parental. alcohol and drug abuse). Van Sant‘s odd. elliptical. elegiac recreation of the period leading up to a