Engulfed with a brooding milieu of despair and despondence, Hu Bo's Elephant Sitting Still is a grating experience, one in which the internal pain of its characters is felt in every frame. Taking place in a small Chinese town in which opportunity is nonexistent and despair is a currency exchanged openly from one person to the next, Elephant Sitting Still is an engrossing albeit difficult experience, one thats underlying intentions slowly come to fruition over its nearly 4 hour running time. Displaying a general detachment from any sense of optimism or hope of gaining access to a better life, this ensemble of characters exhibit a coldness that is palpable, uneasy, and tense for the viewer, one which can be hard to connect to on an emotional level due to its unwavering state of perpetual pessimism. The film does offer a slight reprieve in its denouement, exhibiting a glimmer of optimism and hope, but what unfolds for much of the film's running time is devoid of such inclinations. Featuring a gray aesthetic that is cold, static, and completely void of vibrancy, the film's visual poetry evokes the dead-end nature which its characters inhabit, exuding a general pathos which is devoid of anger or tension, as if it is accepting of defeat. Far from what one would describe as an enjoyable experience, as Elephant Sitting Still unfolds the film reveals a subtle yet profound sense of understanding about pain, depression, and detachment, detailing how its host of characters are all suffering from similar struggles, each having their own spiral of despair which blinds them from recognizing that their experience is shared, a recognition which could evoke a sense of greater understanding, empathy, and kindness. Stuck and frustrated by their lack of potential, Elephant Sitting Still showcases individuals who are constrained by a system which grants them little options, detailing how perhaps the greatest potential for pain lies for those whom are self aware that a better way of living exists but whom cannot reach it, no matter how hard they try. Hu Bo's Elephant Sitting Still is not an easy experience, it's grating, dire, and unwavering in its designs, yet in its final denouement it offers a slight sense of optimism, one which recognizes that hope lies in relationships not detachment, illustrating how an empathetic mindset that is shared may offer some reprieve from such despair and despondence.
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