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The story of two brothers who lead totally different lives. Jake Hunt enjoys life to the fullest in Thailand, while his shy brother Oliver deals with his own depressions back home in the USA. Their dominant mother wants Jake back home and for this reason, Oliver is sent to Thailand to retrieve his brother. Once there, Oliver finds himself in Jake's bizarre life and falls in love with a beautiful girl, Lek. However, it is not a coincidence that she and Oliver have met. Written by
Reviewed for the Cambridge Film Festival - Thomas Storey
'The Elephant King' (2007) premiered in the United Kingdom today at the Cambridge Film Festival. The debut feature length by American writer and director Seth Grossman was perfect in every way. This fascinating, surreal, character study, tells the story of two brothers, Jake and Oliver Hunt, and explores their relationship with each other during their time in Thailand. Although this may sound like a serious subject matter, there are also points throughout the film that question the reality of the narrative, often in a humorous fashion, making the film genuinely funny; either for embarrassing reasons or because of the un-politically correct manor of the humour, mixed with a sharp script and acute timing. There are a few autobiographical features within the film but Grossman states that the majority of the narrative was structured for dramatic and often licentious effect.
There are many themes to the film that Grossman executes perfectly. The sense of self awareness, responsibility and power; in a relationship are just some narrative themes explored: The title, 'The Elephant King', may strike you as odd, as it is not fully explored within the film. Seth Grossman himself says that the idea of the elephant is based on John Godfrey Saxe's poem, 'The Blind Men and the Elephant', in which six blind men all feel a different part of an elephant and in turn their minds picture various objects. The last lines of the poem, do in someways show the themes in the film. However the elephant is simply a representative metaphor for a sense of responsibility, as well as restraint, for the characters. It is therefore the character who manages to be break free in a realisation of their responsibility that shall be the 'King'.
The exploration of the power of the body and mind over a relationship; with the pleasures of both the flesh and spirit, and also the interesting mixture of hedonism and sensualism, made Thailand the perfect setting for the film, with both the strong religious and also depraved sides of the culture. Grossman's use of mise-en-scene and cinematography, in particular his use of framing and contrasting colour pallets for different scenes; really works effectively in conveying the mind-frame of the characters; ultimately making for a much more in depth character study.
Oliver's character undergoes radical change to self realisation, in his seeming desire to become like his brother at the beginning of the film, is shattered as he experiences the detachment that his brother has felt, and realises the effect it has upon their mother. There are points in the narrative that suggests the idea of one character with split personalities, with conflict of interest. This is shown through a mixture of surreal elements and the way in which Jake and Oliver have rather different personalities and yet display similarities in their most basic ideals and desires. This puts the film into a totally different context that would suggest a battle of the mind, in the search for enlightenment, again fitting with the Buddhist message within the film.
This intriguing character study, is honestly inspiring and genuinely intriguing that leaves a lot open to the imagination. This is a worthy example of a difficult form of narrative construction, that perfectly allows a huge potential for audience integration, accessibility, interaction with the characters. 'The Elephant King' certainly deserves much recognition, and director Seth Grossman, will most certainly be one to look out for in the future.
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