The true story behind… the movie “Elephant”

It’s a sad news item that inspired Gus Van Sant for his film Elephantreleased in 2003: A 1999 Colorado high school shooting.

Almost 20 years since the jury of the Cannes festival decided to devote one of the most famous films of Gus Van Sant. In May 2003, Elephant won both the Palme d’Or and the prize for directing by telling the story of a day in an American high school disrupted by two students in need of attention who are preparing a shooting.

A resounding social and political critique, the feature film is actually based on a tragic incident that occurred four years earlier in a high school in Columbine, Colorado in the United States. On April 20, 1999, two high school students, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, detonated a bomb around their establishment to mobilize the police and emergency services. Meanwhile, they enter armed with pistols, rifles, rifles and knives inside the school.

In total, they kill twelve of their comrades and a teacher. Twenty-four other people are injured but eventually recover. At the end of this shooting, which lasts 46 minutes, the two students go to the library and turn their weapons against them in order to kill themselves.

“Suicidal Spiral”

Near Paris Match, the mother of Dylan Klebold confided in 2016 that her son had “let himself be locked in a suicidal spiral”. “He had lost control of himself,” she said, adding that he was the victim of harassment within his establishment.

She explains having discovered, after the fact, that in his diary his son mentioned his “miserable” state and said he was inspired by the film born killers by Oliver Stone, which recounts the criminal journey of a couple in the United States.

“He killed because he wanted to die,” she continued with our colleagues. “I believe he suffered bullying at school and was under the influence of a very deranged, overbearing and probably psychopathic friend.”

A fascination with violence

The friend in question, Eric Harris, also left behind a diary in which he detailed, step by step, the course of the shooting. He also mentioned his desire to leave an imprint on the world by surpassing other known shootings or murderous events.

Aged 18 at the time of the killing, he often referred in his writings to the Nazis, violence and weapons, as reported Release in 2006. “I am a weapon. A Wildey 45 semi-automatic, I am God, I kill people, there is this homosexual, he is arrogant and superficial, I blow his head off”, he wrote.

The two teenagers had also planned to detonate two bombs in the high school cafeteria. Due to a technical problem, these ultimately did not trigger.

gun debates

At the time it occurred, the Columbine shooting was the deadliest attack on a school in the United States. It immediately left its mark on the country’s history, even inspiring director Michael Moore to make a famous documentary, Bowling for Columbine.

Above all, this tragic event ignited the debates on access to weapons in the United States and safety in schools. Especially since several other shootings have followed one another in the American educational environment: we note for example the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 or that of Parkland in 2018, which left 27 and 17 dead respectively.

Since the Columbine shooting, police have reworked their response techniques, which were widely criticized after the lengthy high school response that day in April 1999. The worldmany American schools have set up drills to prepare for possible attacks.

The true story behind… the movie “Elephant”