There is no way to fully understand death. Put bluntly, it is a loss of life. For centuries, people have tried to figure out what that actually means, however. Is it an ending, beginning, or something in between? If history’s greatest minds have been unable to provide these answers, how would a child be able to cope? An Elephant in the Room is a 2020 documentary that looks at how people deal with loss. Specifically, it looks at the Good Grief community center. The group helps children who have lost one or both parents. It is a heartbreaking and sometimes humorous look at the plasticity of children.
The subject matter will make some fear they are about to see a series of tear jerking scenes. At a glance, it would seem the film existed just to tug at heartstrings. Make no mistake about it, An Elephant in the Room is a powerful documentary. The children featured understand they will no longer see their mothers and/or fathers. Some accept this, but many others can not talk about what has happened.
But there is so much more to An Elephant in the Room. Watching as the kids to explain what has happened is sad and heartwarming. Their is talk of Heaven and the universe as they try to make sense of life and death. This actually gives some insight into how we look at death as adults. There is now a realization of the impermanence of life as they try to explain what has happened. It is eye opening to hear these eye children philosophize about death as if they were adults.
Director Katrine Philp does a great job of adding charm to her seemingly morbid film. This is not to say death is ever devalued. There is almost a humor in how the children try to figure out the losses in their lives. For example, a boy now talks about how he is now “stuck living with his uncle.” Another describes her mother’s death before ending with, “The end. A true story.”
These moments further add to the humanity of what has happened. Just like an adult, the children are trying to explain to themselves and others why a person would suddenly die. These moments are never treated as a joke. They are doing what they can to move on with their lives. This is punctuated when we see the kids try to comfort each other and family members.
An Elephant in the Room has no narration and little text. The story is told through the mouths of the people trying to cope. This adds to the emotion. It also adds a genuineness to the documentary. A film about children dealing with the loss of their parents seems exploitative and manipulative. An Elephant in the Room is anything but. The film is a touching and respectful look at grief. It also tells us a lot about ourselves and how we try to explain death.
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