High School

The single overriding monument of capitalism, as regards age grading, is the high school, an institutionalization of the conceit that adolescents are particularly in need of an education designed especially for them and modified to address their peculiar needs and sensitivities (induced by the hegemony). Capitalism and mass technological society needed the high school as a holding pen for young people for whom, though they could surely copulate and endure the rigors of the workplace just as well as their parents, a base of operations was not yet legitimated in society. Curricula were developed in the early twentieth century often on the pretext of preparing young people (at least, boys) for college education. School became an elaborate delaying mechanism for those who needed the opportunity to—as Edgar Z. Friedenberg defined the purpose of education—''understand the meaning of their lives, and become more sensitive to the meaning of other people's lives and relate to them more fully'' (221). By the middle of the twentieth century, it was certainly not, as Friedenberg (and others) took pains to point out, so much the purpose of high school to educate young people incarcerated there by virtue of the mandatory school attendance laws that were, and remain, rife in the United States, as to make inevitable the learning of certain core assumptions:

The first of these is the assumption that the state has the right to compel adolescents to spend six or seven hours a day, five days a week, thirty-six or so weeks a year, in a specific place, under the charge of a particular group of persons in whose selection they have no voice, performing tasks about which they have no choice, without remuneration and subject to specialized regulations and sanctions that are applicable to no one else in the community nor to them except in this place. So accustomed are we to assuming that education is a service to the young that this statement must seem flagrantly biased. (41-42)

All this at least partly because, for Friedenberg, ''adults are incompetent to design, or too grossly impaired emotionally to accept and operate, a society that works'' (249). Given that high schools served first and foremost the needs of the industrialists and managers (and now the megacorporations) that wanted to cheapen the labor they used in order to increase their own profits and were eager and willing to increase unemployment to do this, the challenge of making it possible for young people to see themselves and their world with increased clarity and fashion a response to their lives with increased perspicacity and articulateness was simply not near the top of the agenda. In greater and greater numbers as the sexual revolution of the 1960s wore to its close, adolescents simply had to be kept from exploding, kept from themselves, kept from their world, and kept out of the job market as long as possible.

This is the context in which the great American high school developed, a complex, by the 1960s, in which ''nothing is provided graciously, liberally, simply as an amenity, either to teachers or students, though administrative offices have begun to assume an executive look'' (Friedenberg, 44). It was built upon the infrastructure of publicly funded physical plants from the 1930s and 1940s and a faculty body culled essentially out of the shabby-genteel middle class. During the Second World War, more and more women became teachers. The high school was renovated in the 1970s according to modern (Fordist) factory principles, its teaching staff now augmented by the inflection of vast numbers who saw themselves as professionals, not citizens subject to a calling, and who looked to bureaucracy as an organizational salvation, to rules and moral entrepreneurship as a means of social control, to psychological manipulation, streaming, and dossier keeping as pieties (see Cicourel and Kitsuse), and to the control of youthful enthusiasm— sexual, athletic, you name it—as the surest pathway to peace and freedom. The buildings, especially in the white middle-class suburban world, came to be vast and lavishly equipped, not only with test tubes and Bunsen burners and security-tagged library books but also with vice principals' offices, study halls, soon enough computer terminals, and hermetic cafeterias in which, later in the century, as a result of contracts cupidinously signed by desperate local school boards across America, nutrition-free preparations from high fructose corn syrup would routinely take the place of nutritious food (see Critser).


One such facility is Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Well in advance of the massacre there between 11:40 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. on April 20, 1999, to which Gus Van Sant's Elephant (2003) is something of a response, the high school in America had become an early model of the ''security zone'' that Mike Davis writes about in Ecology of Fear (359-422). Characterized by diffuse moral proscriptiveness, heightened perception (often augmented technologically through surveillance mechanisms), characterological stratification (profiling), centralization of authority, extended record keeping, and an in loco parentis attitude, and rigorously symbolized by the omnipresence of (frequently uniformed) agents of control, the security zone of the high school, shown already well developed in Frederick Wiseman's High School (1968; see Grant, chapter 2), was designed not only to make young people's physical mobility difficult—except in well-monitored routines — but also to keep certain persons out while others were accorded special privileges, and to make it impossible for students to use the space freely for relaxation and pleasure. Much like an airport, the average American high school from the mid-1960s onward was a sterile and hard-surfaced environment, easy to clean and watch, with prescribed traffic patterns and little room for privacy, idiosyncrasy, sexuality, spontaneity, or unfettered expression. Given

Eric (Eric Deulen) and Alex (Alex Frost) cleaning up their act in Elephant (2003).

the application of Fordism to education by this time, it is hardly surprising that the high school was also, often, enormous, a facility for processing the intellect, skills, and personalities of thousands of young people simultaneously and thus a warrant in itself for techniques of crowd control.

This, at any rate, is the place in which we find ourselves as the characters of Elephant are methodically introduced, one particular sequence beautifully establishing the quality of the contemporary high school as a security zone free from the human touch. A pair of enjambed traveling shots, occupying together six minutes and eight seconds of screen time, begins on a playing field with a fixed camera looking out at a swath of grass bordered by some autumnal trees in the distance. A line of girls is visible all the way across the field, doing calisthenics. Near the camera more girls run past, a particularly gawky one of these, Michelle (Kristen Hicks), stopping suddenly to look up at the sky in wonder and then resuming her pace in slowed motion. Boys are playing football in two small squads, moving out of the camera frame as they advance up the field. One of these, Nathan (Nathan Tyson), needing to leave, enters the frame, bends, picks up a red sweatshirt and pulls it on, adjusts it, and heads off. We dolly after him as he walks through some trees to the school building. His shirt has a white''+'' on the back, and the word ''Lifeguard.'' Nathan has medium-length dark hair, heavy brows, and a compact build. He walks with an easy rhythm, as though himself a camera dolly glid ing confidently and beautifully through experience. The ground dips down a slope and the camera stops, watching as he continues to walk away. Smaller and smaller he becomes as we see him approach and then enter the building through a side door.

Immediately now we pick him up inside, this time so close behind him that his head fills the frame. He walks away from us enough to be in medium shot again, turning onto a staircase and walking up toward a set of lambent windows; turns again and continues mounting the stairs, now on the second floor; glides down a long corridor lined with lockers; turns in a brightly lit atrium; heads for some brightly lit glass doors that lead out onto a patio walkway linking to a second building; walks toward, and passes, some boys skillfully break dancing; enters the other building; turns to pass three girls chatting—they freeze when they see him, one lifting her hand to her mouth in suspended excitement; turns back and keeps walking down the corridor, where he meets Carrie (Carrie Finklea), who is clearly attached to him. They kiss briefly and head into a large office suite where Nathan asks a secretary for a permission slip to leave the school.

Watching this, we sense where Nathan is at each instant, what is around him, what direction he has chosen, how his relatively unconstructed, shapeless, and more feelingful body movement outside is slowly recomposed as he soberly heads back to school routine. We can easily imagine that Nathan and his classmates spend their days modulating between loose, erotic, engaged behavior outside under the sky, and restrained, orderly, timetabled, extraordinarily guided activity required inside. We have an illusion of freedom: by means of the playing field, the school permits free bodily play, but only if it is safe, bounded, and timetabled. The large corridors make Nathan's movement, as he makes his way alone, almost dreamlike in its lack of press and constraint. But the smooth camera movement suggests the efficiency of the internal "road" and "traffic" system (a special dolly was constructed to facilitate this movement, especially around corners and in tight spots [Thomson]): that there is room here for hundreds of students to move between classes at the same time, for a vast circulation in which the personality can easily hide, or get lost. That Nathan does not struggle as he glides can mean he is one of those who are very accustomed to being constrained in this place.

What this sequence seems like on the screen is something else again. The activity is filmed to be nondramatic, in the sense that protagonists are not isolated by the camera or lighting and the visual field contains no object of particular focus. In this way, given a static camera, the kids tend to hover and float before the lens, rather than being chosen and "grasped" by the director's gaze. A tranquil music track underpins the entire length of this two-shot sequence, specifically, the Adagio Sostenuto from Beethoven's Piano Sonata Op. 27 No. 2, "Moonlight," recorded with low amplitude so that it is heard, mixed with the voices of the kids on the playing field or the normal corridor sounds in the school, as a distant subtext of the seen moments. Since this particular piece of music has a continuing, even unearthly, motility, like the movement of clouds scudding across the sky (that we see at the opening and closing of the film in extended shots), it tends to position the happenings we watch in terms of an all-abiding and overarching Nature or Cosmos, a Universe of happenings all of which may be taken to be involving and fateful. There is a feeling of emptiness, weight, unfolding probability, intensified by the smoothness with which the story proceeds.

The effect of the lighting and music, as well as of the respectfully distant camera position, is to detach the students from their engagements with one another and with the place, to turn them into moving parts that are energized and interrelated within the context of a surrounding mechanical system. No matter what the kids are doing, their activity and relationships are less important by far than their separation from the place, from one another, and from the meaning of their actions. The sense we have most powerfully, in this telling sequence but also throughout the film, is of what Patrice Blouin calls "incredible lightness" (13—too much space, space in which the eye cannot focus, space through which one glides along as though borne by a systemic conveyor belt. "Losing the device of cutting,'' Van Sant had learned from Miklos Jansco, "starts to make it less display-oriented and more of an account" (Thomson, 64).

Other sequences are arranged in the same disconnected, even hallucinatory, way. Elias (Elias McConnell), a photographer, wandering through a park and shooting snaps of a boy and girl, then encountering John (John Robinson) for a brief moment of conversation and a photographic opportunity; Michelle being told by her gym teacher that she must wear shorts in the future; John catching a ride to school with his inebriated father (Timothy Bottoms), receiving a reprimand for being late, passing through the office where Nathan and Carrie are getting exit permits, running into Elias in the hallway and posing for him while Michelle slinks by. All these intersecting lines of interaction lead us to suspect we are watching a single substantial reality from a number of points of view, as though moving around a sanctified object or space. Death will enter this setting, taking many of these young people. In all of this the dialogue is curtailed, or arcane, or abashed, or absent, so that one has the feeling these students know one another only from seeing and passing one another day after day, and do not really use language to understand their world or their friends in a way that transcends the superficial.

''Hey, are you going to the concert tonight?'' John asks Eli, and Eli responds, ''No, I can't, my parents are being bitches this week,'' and they move on, Eli to his darkroom, John to exit the building, where he sees Alex (Alex Frost) and Eric (Eric Deulen) entering with huge gym bags in their hands. Later, following the tale of Alex and Eric, we will come to know what is in the gym bags. ''Hey, what are you guys doing?'' asks John. ''Just get the fuck outta here and don't come back,'' is Alex's answer. ''Maybe shit's going down.''

The bubble of individual experience disconnected from the social floats not only out of space but also out of time. Through a fluid and self-referential editing structure, Van Sant moves us forward and backward temporally, leading up to the few moments—here experienced from multiple points of view —in which Alex and Eric enter the school. Their gym bags contain automatic weapons, and they have come here today to commit mass murder. But earlier, in Alex's basement, we saw him practicing Beethoven's ''Für Elise,'' a paragon of sensitivity and innocence almost lulled by his own performance. The camera slowly pans around the room, catching walls covered with pinned-up drawings, his bed strewn with papers, a radio, a sound system, a drawing of an elephant, a television with rabbit ears. ''That's awesome,'' says Eric, flopping onto Alex's bed and picking up his laptop to play a computer game in which he uses an automatic weapon of choice to shoot people in the back. Alex switches to the ''Moonlight'' sonata, somewhat too forcefully perhaps, now seen from directly behind. Like the victims in the computer game and like Nathan walking down the corridor, the pianist is a human cipher, a head on a torso, not an expressive face. Together the two boys sit on the couch and visit www.guns.usa.

In its attention to detail in the scenes with these boys—Eric's wifebeater T-shirt as he guzzles milk at Alex's breakfast table, his way of demurely yet foxily smiling at his chum—and in the scenes with the other kids, the film posits a kind of canniness on the part of the students, a hipness to the sexual, political, and cultural surface which CNN routinely gives us as a picture of the world in which we live. Nathan and Carrie have an ''appointment''—she is presumably pregnant, perhaps by him; John is rather too accustomed to parenting an irresponsible childlike father. This is a world where adults have abrogated some basic responsibilities, where high-caliber weapons are easily available to one and all by way of the Internet, where mediated documentary history sweeps past kids' eyes without causing them to digest its meaning, where sex is everywhere and yet feeling is curtailed, where language is inex-pressive—and through it the kids move as though guided from the outside. ''What is learned in the high school,'' writes Friedenberg, ''or for that matter anywhere at all, depends far less on what is taught than on what one actu ally experiences in the place'' (40). The abbreviated conversations we hear are themselves part of the format of obedience and acquiescence learned in the hyperefficient school system: given the pressures of the timetable and the number of locations each student must touch during the day, intensive conversations merely hold things up, merely lead to detention slips.

I am writing of this film in a way that will perhaps seem eccentric to those who, having seen it or heard about it, have been convinced it is principally about school violence—specifically, a kind of analytical memorial to the Columbine catastrophe. Indeed, as finally Alex and Eric do in fact terrorize the school, murdering many students and employees, the film can easily be understood as Van Sant's presentation of the various intertwined factors any of which might be taken to have "caused" such a horrible event while, at the same time none of them, "psychological or sociological, suffices on its own to tip the scales of violence" (Blouin, 15): that the killers were known as "dorks," "loners," and "outcasts" who "spoke German to each other, listened to German techno music and were fans of Adolf Hitler''; that they were "constantly insulted and harassed''; that they "linked their home computers and for hours played violent video games''; that the police did nothing in response to early warnings; that parents didn't know who their own children were; that the police, and adults in general, "had no warning'' (Rocky Mountain Daily News). But I take Elephant to be a statement, first and foremost, about the condition of experience in the contemporary high school: a depiction of that socially organized environment as, indeed, the perfect setting for such an atrocity, a setting designed to educate the spirits of American youth toward the disaffection and detachment we see so bloodily exemplified by Alex and Eric's actions. That high school is the epitome of a capitalist social structure that has foregone sensation and pleasure, poetry, affect, philosophy, and experience for commodification, regulation, packaging, manipulation, indoctrination, and profit. The corridors through which Nathan softly parades are ideal for target practice; the persons we see and move past here are nothing but figures against the ground. If they become targets, grue-somely, this school was already designed for such transformation: in the official rationale, any student without a hall pass and outside of class could be spotted (targeted) and policed with ease. Alex and Eric can hardly be seen as responsible, alone, for what they do in this powerful context. Significantly, as we shall see, The Dreamers offers a very different portrait of what youth can be.

It is only in Alex's house that Van Sant's camera ceases to relentlessly prowl forward through its story. Here, while the boys play together in Alex's basement room, while they sleep, while they eat breakfast in the kitchen, while they watch the documentary on Nazism in the living room and receive their gun shipment, while they practice shooting in the garage, and while they shower together, the camera explores the space they inhabit but essentially frames them as situated, comfortable, engaged, and static. In the school, by contrast; in John's father's car; and in the school playground, the camera finds the children of America in ceaseless motion forward, jogging, racing, pacing, slinking, searching. As metaphor, this suggests that viewed from an institutional perspective, the American young are to be understood as moving toward the future. Rather than hinting that young people really are this way, the film places their ceaseless progressiveness in the context of the high school, developing that forward motion as a way of responding to the constraints of the institutional space. By already in 1912 Max Scheler had written in his extended essay, ''On the Phenomenology and Sociology of Ressentiment" (2003), this commentary on youthful ''progress'':

The ideas of ''progress'' and ''regression'' are not drawn from an empirical observation of the phases of life as such—they are selective yardsticks which we apply to ourselves, to others, and to history. JeanJacques Rousseau was the first to protest against the pedagogical theories which consider childhood and youth as mere precursors of maturity. Leopold von Ranke rejected the childish liberal belief in historical progress in the following magnificent sentences: ''Such a 'mediated' generation would have no significance of its own. It would only be important as a stepping-stone toward the next generation, and it would have no direct relation to the divine. However, I affirm that every epoch is directly related to God, and its value does not lie in what it engenders, but in its very existence, in its own self.'' The desire for progress corresponds to the view rejected by Ranke . . . (33-34)

What Ranke rejects, writes Scheler, is exactly the view that young people are valuable not for what they are but for what they are in process of becoming, in short, a view that rejects youth. This ressentient view withholds or blocks a ''free resignation'' that is vital to proper growth since it is a healthy ''renunciation of the values proper to the preceding stage of life. Those spiritual and intellectual values that remain untouched by the process of aging, together with the values of the next stage of life, must compensate for what has been lost. Only if this happens can we cheerfully relive the values of our past in memory, without envy for the young to whom they are still accessible'' (3738). In the American high school is a thoroughgoing and institutionalized envy of the young, which manifests itself as a situated pressure for them to grow up and be judged by standards hardly proper to their stage in life, while at the same time failing to offer them the responsibilities or rewards of adulthood. What Friedenberg once called ''the dignity of youth'' is hard for young people to achieve or celebrate in a system that persists in moving them forward and away from what they truly are (yet forward to a kind of nowhere).

Edgar Z. Friedenberg's argument in Coming of Age in America, that the high school is essentially a mechanism for denying young people liberty, that the ideal high school student is one who acquiesces to the ressentient demands of the system, finds echo in a statement about Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris (the models for Alex and Eric in Elephant) made by Lee Andres, the choir teacher at Columbine, the day after the shootings: ''They were extremely bright, but not good students.'' Being a ''good student'' is not related in the high school to intelligence or creativity. It is related to heading pur-posively toward the next classroom, finding the correct hallway, getting a pass from authorities before you take your girlfriend to the doctor, curtailing a moment of horseplay while posing for a photograph in order to move on and get to detention on time. At a telling moment, alone briefly in a lounge and a little strained from being ''good,'' John breaks into tears. His girlfriend Acadia (Alicia Miles) walks in, approaches him, quickly kisses the side of his head and moves on to sex education class, leaving him to recuperate with the generalized belief that everything will be better at some point in the future. John, indeed, is one of the people who survives.

the dreamers

If murder and mayhem were Alex and Eric's dream, albeit a social and cultural nightmare, the two are at least capable of dreaming through, not merely pacing through, their lives. Equally oneiric, and rooted in sexual passion rather than a commitment to revolutionary violence, is Matthew (Michael Pitt), the protagonist of Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers (2003). A high school graduate meandering through Paris in 1968, he is obsessed with film, one of those who sits as close as possible to the screen at André Langlois' Cinemathèque Française in order to ''catch the images before anyone else does.'' He befriends, and is soon adopted by, two other young people apparently committed in the same way, Theo and his twin sister Isabel (Louis Garrel, Eva Green), children of a French poet who married an Englishwoman (Robin Renucci, Anna Chancellor). When the parents go off for a seaside vacation, the children take over the Parisian apartment de luxe, with its faded moss green walls and high ceilings. Matthew, deeply sensitive but modest and shy, is fascinated to see the twins' intimacies. Then, progressively, they

218 narrating gender and difference initiate him into the secrecy of their bond, playing a cinema-charade game where they must identify beloved movies from a scene mimed by one of them. Matthew and Isabel fall in love, but she is bonded a priori to Theo, who is always "in" her. When Theo loses the movie charade game, Isabelle forces him to pay the forfeit of masturbating in front of her and Matthew. Later, when Matthew loses, Theo forces him to make love to Isabelle in his presence. Spending all their time together, the three become inseparable, until, in a raucous climax, they are awakened in the middle of the night by a mob chanting in the street outside. Running out to join in the protest—it is the time for the revolution of the young!—they are carried in the throng, chanting "Dans la rue! Dans la rue!'' Theo joins a coterie preparing a Molotov cocktail, and Isabelle runs up to help him. Matthew is terrified, thrown into a paroxysm of philosophical agony. "We don't do this!" he pleads to Theo. ''We do this!'' And he seizes the boy and kisses him with abandon on the mouth. Aghast, frozen, Theo pushes him off and goes back to preparing the bomb he will hurl at the cordon of police who are shooting tear gas and preparing to charge. Matthew turns and goes back—back, presumably, to his other life, his American life, or perhaps, his truly revolutionary life in which battles are fought with passion and the flesh, not slogans and firebombs, in which, as Theo's father wrote, ''a poem is a petition."

Adolescence is surely, among other things, a time of boundaries: between the self and the other, between the self and the world, between one's own self and the self others (and other systems) would impose. For Matthew, who might later, and still alone in a hostile world, become the alcoholic father of John in Elephant, 1968 is the moment when the threshold of loneliness is crossed and love is found for the first time. Trying to write to his mother in his dingy hotel room one night, Matthew cannot find words. When in the morning he awakened by a phone call from Theo inviting him home for dinner, it is as though a curtain of lead has been lifted from his eyes and the streets of Paris are all ashine in poetic reverie: at dinner, when she leans over the table to kiss him goodnight, Isabelle's hair catches in the candle flame and for an instant sparkles in the darkness like fireflies before Matthew tenderly snuffs it out. Escorting him to the bedroom which will be his, Theo winds through long labyrinthine corridors lined with his father's books; as the two stand together looking at the room, for Matthew the excitement of his new friendship with Theo, the proximity, the quality of the French boy's style and character, are all like a musk in the air. The kids spend their days arguing about film, dreaming of film. Was Chaplin better than Keaton or Keaton better than Chaplin? ''Do you know what Jean-Luc Godard said about Nicholas Ray?'' asks Theo. ''Nicholas Ray is the cinema!'' In this film,

Theo (Louis Garrel) and Matthew (Michael Pitt) cleaning up their act in The Dreamers (2003).

such a statement has profound resonance, not merely articulating a critical point of view or adumbrating a young man's knowledge of textual sources, but giving a sense of what it would be like to be invested in film so passionately and fully that it would be imaginable that cinema were a world, not a commodity; that one might be cinema itself. Together, Isabelle, Theo, and Matthew are alive, indeed scintillating with life. One of the qualities of youth that Rousseau and von Ranke point to is exactly this bouleversement, this sense of being overturned by awareness of, and hunger for, other people, the hunger Matthew feels for his new French friends and that Bertolucci's camera positions us to feel at his side. The youth of Elephant do not give appearances of feeling this hunger.

Bertolucci's recollection of 1960s youth, then, finds a poetic spirit entirely absent in our brutal present-day hegemony. A particularly profound scene involves Isa, Theo, and Matthew's attempt to outpace the three protagonists of Godard's Bande à part as they race at breakneck speed through the Musée du Louvre. We see the trio tearing through the exhibition rooms, fluttering past an old guard who tries to catch them as though they were so many butterflies, racing past the Winged Victory of Samothrace, shouting and breathless. Intercut with these spectacularly reconstructed shots are precisely matching shots from the original Godard film, so that the edited sequence represents exactly the prolongation of the earlier film into contemporary time, the replication of the 1960s experience, the loving memory of cinema's—at least New Wave cinema's—ebullient youth. This is Berto-lucci's way of saying, ''Our values may endure.'' Now, Matthew is completely adopted by the delirious twins. ''One of us! One of us!'' they chant, from Tod Browning's Freaks, as they march off in a unity of desire and mutual understanding. In the very next shot, it is pouring rain. Matthew is crossing a boulevard toward the camera, to the sound of Bob Dylan singing ''Queen Jane Approximately." His stride is charged with the music, as though he is inside it, and we are joined to him, also ''One of us!''

Most revealing of the difference between Elephant and The Dreamers is their treatment of sex. Surely what has changed since 1968, beyond the face of our social order—Watergate, home computers, the Internet, crack cocaine, AIDS, the oil crisis—is the meaning of our sex. It is now perfunctory, even a form of exercise. Rather than languidly bathing in the rich presence of our friends, as the kids in Dreamers do, we take brisk showers, as in Elephant, and entertain glancing contacts, shards of touch and affect. Everyone who can write a sentence is educated about sex, to the point of tedium, and sexual identity is bandied about as a basis for politically correct interpersonal relations. In a film such as The Dreamers, indeed, it can be shown unexpurgated and in full flower; even—as we see from Theo, who fries eggs while his sister is penetrated by Matthew—be watched being watched. In the late 1960s, sex was still a mystery, and so in being physically close with our friends we were leaving ourselves and finding the world. For Matthew, then, the American teenager whose educational institution is 1968 Paris, the ménage with Theo and Isabelle is life changing, no matter how it turns out in the end. When he lies naked with the two of them through the night in a tent Isabelle has concocted in the living room, with candles burning and bottles of Burgundy half consumed all around, Matthew has learned what feelings are.

Worth considering are the two scenes of cleansing that, in a way, center both movies. Theo, Isabelle, and Matthew share a bathtub in a long sequence, smoking marijuana and arguing about film and politics as they blush with one another in the suds. While they do not see the world in precisely the same way, it is evident that, vulnerable to one another's touch in this confined space, the three of them have come literally to embody the loss of discreteness and individualism that real social involvement implies. Each has projected the self outward in an embrace—an embrace that crosses the boundaries of gender and class, nationality and political belief, merging strangers through the love of art and the love of love.

In Elephant, by contrast, Eric and Alex shower together before suiting up to go out for the kill. Alex has stripped and stepped into the shower stall, is standing under the running water running his hands through his hair. Eric enters, removes his underwear, opens the stall door and steps in. ''I've never been kissed,'' he says matter-of-factly, so Alex leans forward and kisses him, awkwardly drawing him close. Swiftly we cut, and they are loading guns into the car. These are two who have not, to be sure, known the kind of love that Matthew is shown in Paris. But more, they have transcended the body entirely. The blunt physical connection, which in 1968 electrified Matthew, is here a simple ritual, a moment no more profound than wiping a fleck of dirt off one's arm. So it is that some young people are dreamers of unities while others prepare invasion, invasion to obliterate the past. ''I think,'' said Berto-lucci (Wachtel, 93), ''that film should be a way of communicating with young people, who seem to have a total loss of memory.''

chapter 14

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