Best of the 21st Century?, a series counting down the most acclaimed films of the previous decade.
Of the two most cited interpretations, the most frequent reading of Gus Van Sant’s enigmatic title holds that it refers to “the elephant in the room,” which nobody wants to talk about. Yet this is facile – was it really true that nobody wanted to talk about Columbine in the wake of the 1999 high school massacre? Was this true even beforehand, given that Columbine was actually the climax to a spate of school shootings, all of which received ample press coverage, rather than the kickoff? Furthermore, what exactly is it that’s not being discussed? Social isolation? The influence of the media? Video games? Gun control? Violence in America? Not only were all of these issues seized upon after the killings, but Van Sant makes a point out of eschewing all these explanations in his film (giving each of them a bit of airtime before moving on to other matters). So no, there’s no elephant in the room here, and if there is, no one’s ignoring it. The second reading, the one that it seems Van Sant actually intended, references the allegory of the blind men and the elephant, each touching a different part of the body and varying wildly in how they describe the animal. Likewise, Van Sant’s meditative, almost cruelly cool film is, at 81 minutes, too vast to take in from one perspective – which is not to say it’s particularly deep.
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