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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The elephant in the room
Sometimes its worth looking at a film like this and examining whether it was showered with acclaim because its actually any good or because it's a fashionable subject. In the case of Elephant the praise was completely justified as this is a movie that succeeds in everything it sets out to do.

Elephant is an odd little film that sets out to juxtapose the...
Published on 1 May 2008 by Phil H

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars worth watching? perhaps..
I'll hand it to this film for covering a daring subject as this. I think it is a clever concept in theory, but but in practise it simply falls short of success. The film intentionally gives you a voyeuristic view of high school students and the mundane interactions of a typical high school day, without ever letting you get too close to them as individuals. Whilst this is...
Published on 13 July 2008 by Mr. S. J. Altman


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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The elephant in the room, 1 May 2008
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This review is from: Elephant [DVD] [2004] (DVD)
Sometimes its worth looking at a film like this and examining whether it was showered with acclaim because its actually any good or because it's a fashionable subject. In the case of Elephant the praise was completely justified as this is a movie that succeeds in everything it sets out to do.

Elephant is an odd little film that sets out to juxtapose the ordinariness of the daily situation with the extremity of its outcome. To that end the cast was set during a casting call for local high school students in director Gus Van Sant's hometown. The resulting cast were largely not (at the time) professional actors and the roles they would play were in many cases moulded by the teenagers themselves. As Van Sant explains in an interview extra the characters are also teen movie archetypes to an extent and this serves to make the school that acts as the setting seem familiar. At just under 80 minutes long the film chronicles the final hour in the day of the characters leading up to an event that will (without wanting to make it too melodramatic) shatter their lives. In that hour the lives of the characters intersect, however briefly, and this is mixed in with parts of the 24 hours previously for two of their number.

Essentially Elephant is a fictionalised rendering of a High School shooting spree, heavily influenced by the infamous Columbine Massacre. To that end it is set as an ordinary school day until the first shot is fired. Long, dialogue free, stretches abound as characters move from one place to the next. Some of the characters are likeable, others are not so likeable, its clear though that they are teenagers and none deserve to die. Van Sant makes no effort to lay blame for this kind of event. When Alex, the mastermind of the shooting, begins to work his masterplan it could be for any number of reasons. He is being bullied, he may not be entirely sane, he is an outsider whose only real friend is not on his level, he is a latch key kid, he plays violent video games, guns are easy to come by. Any one or all of these may be ultimately the cause of the violence and death that make up the last 20 minutes or so of the movie. Its not movie violence either- there's no heavy metal soundtrack or pithy one liners, and there's no dramatic poses or improbable physicality. Only a palpable feeling of terror and a lack of apprehension.

Films like Elephant are necessarily rare. We watch movies to escape, not to have to face up to grim realities. Films like Elephant are also necessary. In this movie Van Sant isn't apportioning blame or providing easy answers. He's not trying to tell us the answers, only to make us face up to the harsh reality of the questions. The elephant in the room here is how a society can allow its children to massacre each other no matter what the cause. Highly recommended.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Exremely Good - not for everyone, 11 April 2006
By A Customer
This review is from: Elephant [DVD] [2004] (DVD)
Reading the reviewers of Van Sant's Elephant, you get the feeling that there is a very definite split between the audience. People either love it or hate it - there doesn't seem to be any grey area. Unfortunately (or furtunately, depending on how you choose to look at it), this is probably the best way to describe challenging and ambitious art cinema - doesn't this rule generally apply to most avant guarde films that are considered the best of their time?

It's true Elephant is long, and nothing happens for about an hour, you do merely follow students around the corridors of a school, and yes the killers are surprisingly cliche. And these are the elements that people will base the fact of loving or hating the film.

One of the major problems of a film like this and the subject that it is tackling is that it will gain a large recognition. And because of this it will be given more of a mainstream audience than it probably would have done otherwise. This is not a bad thing, but it does mean that a large number of people going to see a film like this that is tackling a hot topic of the day will be unprepared for the unconventional, voyeuristic piece of art filmmaking that will unravel. Film students, and people well conversed in filmic conventions and styles will, more often than not, love it as it subverts and offers new conventions. But to an audience that is more accustomed to watching 'normal' films, it will strike a barron and boring chord.

So does this mean that the film is boring and pointless? No of course not, and it is also not a film that is merely preaching to the converted, as even that has much to teach and bring to filmmaking and so is definetly not futile. In the end the film is what it is, the audience will get out of it what they bring, and probably the ones that find it boring are the ones that are more used to having narrative set up in the standard way.

Obviously, I found the film to be extremeley rewarding and I got a lot out of it, but then I've done a film studies course and am going into filmmaking. I thought the first hour was very clever and needed the slow uneventful burn, you needed to know that these were real, normal people, you neeeded to become accustomed to them. The killing needed to be numbing senseless and real.

The prblem with films like this and others like Monsters Ball is that they reach the wrong audience, one that cannot deal with real emotion and reality as they have been raised on hollywood films that subvert reality - which is fine, but makes it very hard for them to deal with anything but, it also has a very narrowing effect on film culture.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Elephant by Gus Van Sant, 7 Mar. 2008
This review is from: Elephant [DVD] [2004] (DVD)
The film is a true artistic masterpiece, with brilliant camera use, plot and the way the story is presented as a whole. The film follows various characters at an American High School (the actor's real names are used in the film for realism) and the absolute catastrophy that ensews at the end of the film. It is based on the true events of the Columbine High School Massacre in 1999 as more of a docu-drama rather than a full blown drama. After reading some of the poorly rated reviews left by customers I was actually quite shocked because this film is very good, they just obviously can't see an artistically sound film. I just can't express how artistic this film really is.

A great buy, but don't get it if you're easily shocked.

I'd also like to point out the reasoning behind the title of the film: in America there's a saying, "The elephant in the room," referring to a problem that no-one will admit is present, therefore referring to the events that occurred.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars worth watching? perhaps.., 13 July 2008
By 
Mr. S. J. Altman "ssimon sayss" (Berkshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Elephant [DVD] [2004] (DVD)
I'll hand it to this film for covering a daring subject as this. I think it is a clever concept in theory, but but in practise it simply falls short of success. The film intentionally gives you a voyeuristic view of high school students and the mundane interactions of a typical high school day, without ever letting you get too close to them as individuals. Whilst this is intentional, I felt that it prevented me from ever becoming emmersed in the film, and feeling any connection or empathy for the students whatsoever.

If you are reading this review, chances are you already have a pretty good idea that a terrible tradegy puts an end to this dreary school day. Well I did aswell, and thus spent the whole film just waiting for it to happen. They clearly try to make a powerful statement by following these kids lives avidly, only to have them picked off like rabbits, although I knew it was going to happen, so didnt really feel any sense of loss when it did. I was satisfied in a way, since I'd been waiting so damn long for it to happen.

It is shot in the style of a documentary, with no fancy camera work. This is supposed to imply the reality of the high school situation and also the fact that the event is based on a real one. Granted it is shot in a way that is about as real as it can possibly be... Although you know its not actually real, it's a made up film, and personally, I couldn't get past that.

The background story of the killers is a bit flaky and pointless in my opinion. In the featured interview with the director, he points out that nobody actually knows what droves the boys to such an act so they make one up themselves. Fair enough, but it just seems like another way that this film doesn't really work.

I think the problem with this film is that with its humdrum cinematic techniques, it simply fails to create any sort of connection between the characters and the viewers. Their personalities remain too opaque. Whilst this may have been intentional and more realistic, was the point of the film not to evoke some sort of emotive response? A film of such dark subject matter could have had a much more powerful effect in my opinion, and even if this detracted from the realistic style it was going for, it probably would have been worth it as it would have gotten the point across much better.

When i heard about this film i thought it seemed like an intersting and exiting concept. However after watching it i think that this was not really a good method to portray something like this. For a problem that is rooted in such dark and deep seeded problems, telling the story with a load of one dimensional characters seems entirely innaproppriate really.

Its not a bad film, and it possible that the concept was simply lost on me. However I took it out of the DVD player feeling confused, dissatisfied and wondering what the point in the film was. It didn't show me anything i didnt already know, and i don't really think anything useful comes from it at all.

But if you're thinking of trying it out, go ahead, who knows, it may be the best film you've ever seen.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Save your money..., 17 Aug. 2009
By 
D. Mothersdill (Bristol, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Elephant [DVD] [2004] (DVD)
I bought this film on the balance of reviews as there are those who call it brilliant whilst others call it boring. I can take a boring film with a subtle storyline but this film was too much.

The director has taken an interesting subject and come at it from a different angle. Instead of primarily focusing on the attackers, as many would have, he has turned his attentions to a select few schoolchildren. The first 50 or so minutes of this film contains very little dialogue as it shows the children going about their day in school. A camera focused on a child walking through a school corridor for 5 minutes does not make for a good film. It is, in fact, relentlessly boring and I can't help but feel that the director would have been better served building up the characters of these children by having more dialogue.

It is only in the last 20 or so minutes that the attackers are actually introduced to the audience. Only then does the film start to get going. However poor acting soon gets rid of any drama or realism. The fact that this film only includes amateurs (admittedly some have gone on to feature in other films) shows and it really hasn't worked.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Modern Day Neo-realism, 7 Mar. 2008
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G. Flynn "diordna" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Elephant [DVD] [2004] (DVD)
This film is a piece of art. As far as I can remember (I saw this film a couple of years ago) there is very little dialogue and pretty much no action until the end (save piano playing and an un-neccessary shower scene).
The haunting part of this film is that none of the characters act any different to if they were actually at their school, giving the film a very authentic quality.
The score (Moonlight Sonata) paces the film brilliantly; slow and methodical like the build up to its bloody climax.
Also, the directors choice to show scenes from different view points (but not changing what happens - as other films do to try and show eyewitness irregularity) lulls the viewer into a sense of familiarisation, making the shooting scene more violent.
Don't buy this if you have a short attention span or dislike films that concentrate more on cinematography and less on character development and plot - which sounds bad but the film pulls it off.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Realist cinema at its best, 29 Mar. 2005
By 
This review is from: Elephant [DVD] [2004] (DVD)
Understated, elegant and serene, yet at the same time bold, powerful and haunting, Gus Van Sant's 'Elephant' is a superb piece of ultra-realist filmmaking. Taking the documentary-style legacy of 'Kids' to new levels, 'Elephant' is more of a work of art than entertaiment.
The quality of the film lies in the fact that it appreciates the power of subtlety to create a truly disturbing atmosphere which lodges itself in your mind and refuses to leave. At once realistic and yet strangely dreamlike, the camera follows a number of American students around a school, documenting the way their paths interject and recapturing the same events through different viewpoints. It is the ordinary, mundane existences of these characters which the film is trying to capture; Gus Van Sant is trying to show us what it is that is lost when people are indiscriminantly murdered. The fact that the audience is well aware of how the film is going to end only adds to this strangely real yet dreamlike quality, as does the haunting 'Moonlight Sonata' which accompanies much of the movement, and the violence, when it does come, is filmed in such a silent, almost logical way that it only serves as an extension of this mood. 'Elephant' is a snapshot of a moment in its character's lives in which time stands still and the ordinary becomes the unbelievable.
If you want an entertaining, escapist experience then this isn't for you; if, on the other hand, you want an artistic, subtle and haunting cinematic experience, 'Elephant' will fulfill.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Patience is a virtue, 14 Sept. 2004
By 
A. Lemin (Lichfield, Staffordshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Elephant [DVD] [2004] (DVD)
Elephant is a powerful, tragic and highly personal film based on chilling events that are all too common in American high schools.
Winner of the Palme D'or and Best Director at Cannes 2003, this highly acclaimed film takes a private glance into the somewhat mundane and ordinary lives of high school icons.
Gus van Sant (Writer and Director) manages to build his characters without frequent use of dialogue, instead he prefers to stalk his characters, presenting them in their purest fashion.
This film isn't so much about a high school masacre (the shootings are not glamorised in any way) but more about the fragmentation of high school society and the appreciatiion that there is always more than one side to a story (in fact many scenes are repeated from different characters' perspectives).
Visually, Elephant is of great beauty. Much of the film simply follows behind a key character as they navigate the school corridors, most of which never seem to be in focus.
Admittedly Elephant could seem a little boring at times with long scenes and not much stimulation. But it is quite the opposite. The audience are given time to evaluate what's happening and refect on the individual and their nature.
Accompanied by a beatuifuly haunting yet simple score (consisting of a unusually slow Fur elise and Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor No.2 Moonlight), Elephant should be watched in total silence to absorb the full extent of Gus van Sant's vision.
However, Elephant does require some effort from the audience. A patience that, if given will be greatly rewarded.
Elephant is a beautiful and haunting film that will strike a deep chord in anyone who is willing to give as much as they take.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Captivating...., 9 Jan. 2007
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J. Eastick (Norwich, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Elephant [DVD] [2004] (DVD)
Having just watched the film, I feel compelled to say my bit. It captured my attention more than any other film for a long time. The use of untrained actors and a documentary style filming makes it feel all the more real, in a way thats rarely achieved by comparable Hollywood movie-making. Van Sant puts in some of the supposed half-baked motivations for the Columbine shootings in this film; fascist ideology, break-down of family values, homosexuality for example. Although these themes are not elaborated upon and the dialogue apparently suggest that they aren't explanations or excuses for the behaviour of the killers. One of the boys asks whether a photo of Adolf Hitler is actually who he thinks he is, in a typical sense of teenage ignorance. As for the homo-erotic moment within the film, one of the boys merely says he's never actually kissed anyone before, as though just to experience it in some way before their 'big day'.

Without any kind of identiable detestable fascist ideology or any other sign of neglect or abuse, apart from the bullying Alex receives in school, its hard for us to label him as evil or twisted, or even to fully understand the motivations for what eventually happens. We get a glimpse into the mundane aspects of the other students daily lives; the geeky girl who won't undress in front of the other girls, the bleached blonde boy who has to call for his brother to pick his drunken father from outside the school, or the snap-happy photographer who develops his films at the schools' own lab. With all this, when the eventual tragedy happens it also seems somehow chillingly mundane, shot and directed in justifiably unglamorous approach.

I found the final moments of this film scarier than any horror film I've ever seen.
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3.0 out of 5 stars then bored by his answer shoots him dead, 15 Dec. 2014
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This review is from: Elephant [DVD] [2004] (DVD)
To direct a film such as this requires a skilful balancing act between the boundaries of taste and discretion, and at times it seems Van Sant does not quite have the inner ear for this. Charges have been levelled against it for possibly inspiring copycat killers; the film’s closing shot provides a potent example. One of the killers discovers two of his classmates in the cafeteria and holds them at gunpoint as he decides which one to kill, the camera pulls back and the victims are excluded from the frame focussing on the killer, standing powerfully over them his weapon in the centre of the frame.
At times Van Sant actually seems aware that his film may work in this way, his murderers are seen watching a documentary about Hitler and one shot of a shooting exactly matches the screen of the video game they play where they gun down an infinity of immobile avatars. One of the students, upon seeing the gunmen burst into the library dumbly takes their photo, it is what he’s been doing all day. The sound effect for his camera shutter is used for the sound of the murderer’s assault rifle in an earlier scene, what is the purpose of this is it a mere technical aberration, a coincidence that they sound alike or is Van Sant attempting to say something about the photographer’s (his own) role, and if so what?
The choice to focus on the killers more than the victims may be more interesting but it is less noble. Van Sant shows the killers as they plan their massacre, two boys are going hunting, one tells the other to “have fun” and later asks “how did you do?”, meaning how many people did you kill, then bored by his answer shoots him dead, he does not hate him, he would have passed for a friend, he just wanted to find out what would happen if he shot him too, wondered how his body would look were it slumped on the floor. Their intention to “have fun” should be borne in mind as you watch their faces, they show no joy nor catharsis, they are entirely indifferent to those they make into victims whom the camera reduces to blurred shapes at the edge of frame.
The victims are no less stoic, Van Sant introduces us to them each by use of an inter-title telling us the word written on their birth certificate, we follow them for minutes on end, occasionally Van Sant allows us assumptions concerning their inner lives, delivered with great subtlety and economy. We hear a few lines of indistinct, banal chatter and then they are gone, murdered without a scream or a tear. Perhaps that’s how it is, frozen by shock, confusion and disbelief, they watch themselves get murdered, one man’s face conveys nothing but curiosity at the commotion and then stands mutely as he is shot through the heart.
The film’s title is an overt reference to the Alan Clarke short film of the same name, the tracking shots of which Van Sant deliberately apes, but with more self-conscious flourishes like the films compression of time and occasional slow motion, Van Sant shows us some scenes multiple times from the perspectives of different people, his reasoning for this is unclear, is it to re-establish the time frame he has so chopped up, or is this foreshadowing to create a sense of foreboding. If the latter it is completely inappropriate to the events, exploiting them for tension, if the former why chop up the storyline in the first place, does so daring a film as this really need to conform to the new convention of non-linearity. To consciously place itself alongside Clarke’s film is a bold move, as it provokes the comparison of the two projects, their motives and their techniques, Van Sant’s film is far the more perplexing of the two in both cases, Clarke sought honesty and the exposure of the senselessness of the institutional violence taking place in Ireland at the time. I am unclear what Van Sant sought to achieve with his film, provocation? Achieved. But what else? Unlike Michael Moore’s film Bowling for Columbine (which used the columbine massacre as the starting point for an expose of America’s laughable attitude towards firearms,) Elephant makes little call for tighter gun control, Elephant has no agenda, no real message beyond the truth itself, it merely hopes to say this happens. It is, to me at least merely a potent and challenging expression of the principle of “Oh Dearism”.
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Elephant [DVD] [2004]
Elephant [DVD] [2004] by Gus Van Sant (DVD - 2004)
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