- Queer Orientation with Gus Van Sant's Elephant
- Culture, Theory and Critique
- Volume | Issue number
- 57 | 1
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Humanities (FGw)
- Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA)
Sexuality, common discourse tells us, constitutes an identity - or an orientation. Unlike the easily reified ‘identity’, however, the latter term can be taken to suggest the intimate enfolding of the erotic within a specific environment, milieu or Umwelt. I explore that possibility in relation to Gus van Sant's Elephant (2003), a film loosely based on the Columbine High School massacre of 20 April 1999. I show that the movie resists the reduction of the American high school to narrative setting. Elephant tells a story that is not about plot, but about place. At two instances in the film, homosexuality is at stake. A student discussion revolves around whether one should presume to be able to recognise sexual orientation from appearances. In another scene, the two murderers-to-be share a fleeting kiss in the shower, prompting one reviewer to conclude, ‘[t]wo boys kiss. And then a school massacre’. While that reading assumes the inevitability of the narrative chronology of post quod erg propter quod, I want to attend to the film's alternative mode of narration, which might be described as immersive, ambient, atmospherical or meteorological. Elephant is so disorienting because it is so queerly orientated to an irreducible ‘timeplace’. Like the weather, Elephant shows us, (homo)sexuality is not one thing. Like the weather, (homo)sexuality is not a thing.
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