“The Elephant in The Room” by Terry Kettering
There's and elephant in the room.
It is large and squatting, so it is hard to get around it.
Yet we squeeze by with "How are you?" and "I'm fine…
And a thousand other forms of trivial chatter.
We talk about the weather.
We talk about work.
We talk about everything else…
Except the elephant in the room.
We all know it is there.
We are thinking about the elephant as we talk together.
It is constantly on our minds.
For, you see, it is a very big elephant.
It has hurt us all.
But we do not talk about the elephant in the room.
Oh, please, say her name.
Oh, please, say "Barbara" again.
Oh, please, let's talk about the elephant in the room.
For if we talk about her death,
Perhaps we can talk about her life.
Can I say "Barbara" to you and not have you look away:
For if I cannot,
then you are leaving me alone…
in a room…
with an elephant.
I think this poem is the reason why Gus Van Sant’s film about the day a Columbine-like attack happens is called Elephant.
The movie itself takes place at a random high school in an unknown American place (the film was shot in Portland, Oregon). The movie follows several different teens (including the Columbine-esque killers) throughout their day, the day that ends with many of them dead. We get to see the teens and their various problems (or lack of them). One guy has an alcoholic father...but always gets in trouble with administrators for being late. A group of girls seem normal until you realize that they are bulimic. The two killers play violent video games and buy guns off the Internet...but they are also gay.
What’s interesting about this movie is the lack of everything you would expect from a film like this. Everything is shown in a very matter-of-fact way. It’s not sensationalized or milked for high drama. It doesn’t try to explain why it happened or even why these teens are the way they are. It feels more like a documentary, with the camera just following these teens as they go about their day. In fact, from checking the credits, many of the teens in the movie share their characters’ first names. An actor named Alex plays the character of Alex, for example.
There is always one question that I think about whenever I think about what happened at Columbine...why did it happen in a predominantly white school? Even with all the claims about how bad inner city schools are and the like, nothing has ever happened at an inner city school that compares to what happened at Columbine. No black person has set up bombs and picked off random students with guns. As Chris Rock famously said “What’s with all the crazy white boys?”
Elephant is not one of those films that you can readily watch again. In fact, part of me was waiting for the incident to start as opposed to really being engrossed in these teens’ daily lives. It’s only 81 minutes long, but it feels more like 100 minutes. Regardless, it’s one of those movies that could open up ignorant parents’ eyes, like Kids or Thirteen...but minus the cautionary tale aspect.