I think many film buffs will remember Gus Van Sant’s riveting film, Elephant (2003), following a normal high school day preceding a harrowing school shooting. Sadly, school shooting are an all too real horror in our nation. I think one school shooting that a lot of people don’t know about (including me, prior to watching this) is the Montreal Massacre.
On December 6, 1989, at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, twenty-five year old, Marc Lepine, armed with a mini 14-rifle and a hunting knife, shot twenty-eight people, killing 14 women, before committing suicide.
Director Denis Villeneuve (Enemy, Prisoners) takes a simplistic and unnerving approach to this devastating true story and films its entirety in black and white, creating a true account of these events in a distinct and uncompromising fashion.
The shooter in the film is nameless and out of respect for the victims and their families all characters are fictitious. But the intensions of the killer described in the film are Marc Lepine’s factual thoughts as is described in his suicide note. His reasons are political, and against women in particular. He is enraged by feminists and believes them opportunistic and hypocritical.
Much like in Elephant, Polytechnique chronicles the day leading up to the shooting. Two particular female students are followed on this tragic day in history. Valerie is a short haired woman anxious for a job interview and Stephanie is her dutiful friend and roommate giving her courage. Valerie, Stephanie, and numerous other co-eds are preparing for their engineering finals, unknowing what this decisive day holds. Some stories, and lives, are cut too short.
The time frame skips around, as told from different perspectives of the same day. Telling the story in this scattered and deviating format gives a new perspective on how we look at certain scenes, knowing the outcome beforehand and anticipating their imminent doom. Knowing what is going to happen creates a buzzing, underlying tension as we anxiously await the exploding moment of terror and sadness. Some may view this film as slow-paced, but I love it this way, building the tension like a bubbling pot of boiling water, gradually increasing in heat and intensity.
This movie is so frightening due to the fact that this type of occurrence happens all too frequently in our day and age. This films evokes a rush of emotions, witnessing the physical and emotional pain of the victims, those who survived and those who died. Even though it stirs feelings of sadness and anger within our hearts, Polytechnique delivers an earnest memorandum for all those who died on that fateful day in 1989.
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