Gus Van Sant‘s movie Elephant (2003) comments on the events of Columbine in 1999, but instead of relying heavily on words and script to portray this commentary, the director relies heavily on actions, aesthetic, and music to draw the audience in and react to the message being sent. J.J. Murphy mentions in his writing that Van Sant felt screenplays left little room for “the fun stuff” and so by eliminating or limiting the script he was able to have an outline, but leave space to explore other aspects of film and make the actors seem more real.
This improvisation of the script is prevalent throughout the entire film. There are some scenes like with John’s drunken father or when Eric dissed Alex’s mom that seemed a little scripted in order to given some background to the characters, but the majority of the conversations between the students seemed effortless, like when the three girl friends were talking about Nathan and shopping or when the Gay-Straight Alliance debated about appearance and if you can tell someone is gay. The bullying by some of the students and the passing comments made between characters also seemed unscripted. These discussions and conversations allowed the tension and story to build without giving to many direct answers to the character’s psyche or true intentions.
I feel as though the improvised script adds to the movie, because the characters become more believable as everyday high school students, going about their lives. The conversations are seen as though they could be heard in the hallways of any school around the world. This reality based way of conversation makes the movie universal, in that any of these students could be at any school and the threat of a shooting occurring is real. It makes the movie more personal by playing upon these fears; however, if a rigid script was laid out, the chances are that the characters would become to developed and less relatable to the audience. The lack of words challenges the audience to try and figure out what is occurring without giving them the answer in word form, but instead they must look at actions and looks, giving rise to the question of if a person’s intentions and character can be gauged just by looks alone or if they can be deceiving?
The lack of script also helped other aspects of the movie to shine and give clues as to what was to occur. Music and aesthetics became crucial to the story telling, for example the music played in the background for the majority of the film was calm and when there was discord in the music (like in the ending credits and when Alex messes up on his piano playing) it signifies a coming darkness or conflict.