A day in the lives of a group of average teenage high school students. The film follows every character and shows their daily routines. However two of the students plan to do something that the student body won't forget. Written by
The school this was filmed at (Whitaker Middle School, formerly Adams High School in Portland, OR) was torn down in 2007 due to asbestos and black mold. The school had already been shut down when the film was shot. See more »
When the three girls are getting their trays in the cafeteria, there is a male student standing to the left. The microphone pole casts a shadow on the back of his neck. See more »
There are very few films which manage to keep the entire audience seated through the credits, but this is one of those few, at least at the screening I attended. Ok, so the abrupt nature of the ending may also have had something to do with that, but I felt that rare feeling of total dislocation and nausea once the film was over, so realistic and horrific was the violence.
This disjointed examination of the causes of a Columbine style shooting works so much better, I think, than a 'straight' drama would have done. In destroying our expectations of a traditional narrative and avoiding what could have easily become cliched characterization, Gus Van Sant also demonstrates what the probable reality of a situation like this would have been, which is senseless, anti-heroic and totally random. A lesser version of this story would have had Michelle, the geeky outcast, or Benny, the brave and silent student who helps a distressed student out of a window become heroes. Their inherent goodness or strength would have them saved. Here, they are simply snatched away from us without glory, fanfare or mourning.
Van Sant's method of using long shots without dialogue or cuts works brilliantly, not only lending the film a doomy atmosphere, but also a highly lyrical quality that captures perfectly the isolation and loneliness of these characters, so often unable to communicate. These kids talk about nothing, and everything, their brief, clipped conversations pregnant with subtext. It is as close as a fictional film has come to creating truly believable, real people in recent memory (Harmony Korine 'Kids' also comes to mind).
Being less than two years out of school, one of the elements I appreciated most was the way in which the film captured the social structures of school, and that all enveloping feeling that everything is so important. After all this delicate build up, the shooting feels like a truly cataclysmic, apocalyptic event. That Van Sant shoots one seemingly unimportant scene from three points of view further enhances the sense of the randomness, and at the same time the inevitability of this event. The violence itself is extremely well handled, never glorifying or even being too explicit, and is yet completely devastating.
The only area of the film that I felt was unconvincing was the build up that we saw from the killers point of view. Having them watch a documentary about Hitler seems too heavy handed, and the nature of the relationship between the two is far too undersketched, and unnecessarily complicated by having then kiss in the shower.
Ultimately however, this is a powerful film, beautifully and sensitively made. It is one of those films, alongside Schindler's List that should be compulsory viewing for school children. It's shocking nature would be best utilized for people of this age, as I feel it would no doubt help kids to think more carefully about their actions to others.
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