gus van sant

gus van sant recently completed his trilogy of death. these were a series of movies where he explored death through various means, such as death by another, death from outside, and death from self. these movies were all shot with a very simplistic, roving camera style, that had a very voyereuristic way about it. none of the movies had anything by way of a convenient plot. they were all simply about starting and finishing, with hardly any dialogue. most people will find the movies tiresome and boring, but others may find them to be very interesting.


gerry: how do you think the hike's going so far?
gerry: pretty good.

gerry is the first movie of the trilogy of death. it's about two guys named gerry, who are driving out in the desert one day and decide to stop to go for a bit of a hike. what starts out as a simple hike quickly turns into a nightmare as they both realize that they don't know where the car is. thus begins the aimless wandering for days throughout the desert. during the process, they speak very little, sometimes talking about video games, other times talking about jeopardy, but almost always wandering. this movie is probably the most tiresome of them all, because there are periods, long periods, of up to several minutes at a time, where all you see them do is walk. no talking, no soundtrack, just walking. and they do this a lot. but what's interesting about the movie is the way it is filmed, with a very free-lance sort of wandering style, as well as some incredible visual shots of the desert. in the end, you know it has to end badly, and it does, leaving the viewer wondering what went through the heads of the two gerry's. considering we don't get much insight by way of dialogue, you're forced to just watch the expressions on their faces turn from amusement to hopelessness as they quickly realize the ridiculous nature of their plight.


girl in cafeteria: what are you writing?
alex: uh, this? it's my plan.
girl in cafeteria: for what?
alex: oh, you'll see.

elephant is the second in the series, and most successful. it is a fictional account of a school shooting. there are no professional actors here. every kid is cast from a real school. there is no real plot except that the camera follows these students in what seems like a very ordinary day. the kids go to school, they go to class, they go to lunch... all very mundane. two kids, however, are in the process of planning a school massacre. you watch as they plot out their attack plan throughout the day. you watch as they receive the assault rifle they purchased off the internet with their parents' credit card. you watch as they play video games. you watch as they have sex. and finally, you watch as they go from room to room, shooting everyone they see. the movie is hard to watch sometimes, and it offers no explanations or motives as to why these kids go and shoot up their school. the movie just starts with the shot of the sky as clouds gather, and ends with the final killings. there are no easy answers, and that's the best part of the movie. again, there is a voyeuristic appeal to the movie, and you really can't do anything except watch as children are helplessly mowed down by their peers. it's very much like real life, because you can blame the readily available access to guns, you can blame violent video games, you can blame sexuality, you can blame bullying... but to this date, there are no easy answers as to why children shoot other children.

last days

blake: you know, it's kinda like... success is subjective, you know. it could be an opinion.

last days is a movie about a rock star who isolates himself in his home and how he spends his last days before he kills himself. last days is a fictionalized account of what could have possibly been going through kurt cobain's mind before he shot himself. gus van sant had to change the names because of possible litigation from courtney love. the movie, like the other two, follows the main character through roving, wandering cameras. there isn't much to last days, because pretty much all you see is blake, the rock star and kurt cobain stand-in, wandering around his home and property, mumbling to himself, and hardly being able to string together a single coherent sentence. you don't see any drug use on film, but you know there is. blake pretty much keeps to himself, with some people coming to talk to him every now and then, and you get the feeling that something could have been done to help him, but nothing is done. and in the end, once more, there are no clean answers. like the other two movies, you don't get any direct insight into what the character is feeling. you don't get any giant speaches or heartfelt emotions. all you get is what you see and everything is determined by the actions of the characters; whether it's the hopeless inaction of the two gerry's, to the violent attack by two students, to the final self-inflicted shotgun blast of last days. last days is my least favorite of the three movies, because there isn't the visually stunning images of gerry, or the shocking death of innocence in elephant, but it is still interesting anyhow. still, most people will hate these movies, and i don't blame them. definitely not for your average movie-going public.

i have always been more interested in what people do or don't do, rather than what people say they're going to do. my own writing, when it comes to my novels, have always tried to focus on the aspect of action. at the end of the day, it is what we do or don't do that shapes our lives, and these three movies are great examples of that. you have to admire the decision to ignore contriving back stories. i have always hated back stories, because although they help the viewer or reader figure out what motivates the characters to do the things they do, i feel by now, in 2006, people understand what motivates others to do what they do, so there's no point in dwelling on it. what's important are the actions themselves. are the consequences important? for sure. but you can imagine the consequences, so again, there's no point in dwelling on it.