Elephant (2003)

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Critic Consensus: The movie's spare and unconventional style will divide viewers.

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Movie Info

A tale about high school violence that unfolds on an ordinary school day, inside an American high school, filled with schoolwork, football, gossip and socializing. For each of the students we meet, high school is a different experience: stimulating, friendly, traumatic, lonely, hard.

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Cast

John Robinson (IX)
as John McFarland
Kristen Hicks
as Michelle
Timothy Bottoms
as Mr. McFarland
Matt Malloy
as Mr. Luce
Ellis E. Williams
as GSA Teacher
Ellis Williams
as GSA Teacher
Kim Kenney
as Assistant Principal's Secretary
Marci Buntrock
as Assistant Secretary
Roman Ostrovsky
as Red Haired Kid
Vana O'Brien
as P.E. Instructor
Alfred Ono
as Mr. Fong
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Critic Reviews for Elephant

All Critics (159) | Top Critics (44)

There's much to argue with, but this unconventional, oddly beautiful film resonates in unexpected ways.

Mar 12, 2018 | Full Review…
Newsweek
Top Critic

Gus Van Sant's fascinating, mysterious, semidocumentary meditation on the Columbine massacre is not very satisfying, but it's still something to see.

Apr 24, 2013
New Yorker
Top Critic

What I'll remember most vividly about Gus Van Sant's extraordinary "Elephant" is not the violent climax but the state of grace that precedes it.

Apr 24, 2013 | Full Review…

Elephant creates gorgeous, wide-open spaces that allow viewers the freedom to reflect without having a point-of-view imposed on them.

Apr 24, 2013
AV Club
Top Critic

The approach is oddly riveting, though, because the tension builds slowly, and you know what's going to happen at the end of the day.

Apr 24, 2013 | Full Review…

The film doesn't try to explain, but to put us in a subjective time and space, a place where it's impossible not to feel the abject horror of random violence.

Jan 26, 2006 | Full Review…
Time Out
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Elephant

½

With a flawless direction and elegant long takes, this hypnotizing film moves in a careful pace to follow its characters prior to an impending tragedy. I only wish I felt more involved with them, while the amateur actors could have conveyed a more authentic sense of terror.

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer

½

Quite an experience. More about tone than anything. I read a review on someone's blog that said that not only does this film not trivialize Columbine (as some have criticized it of doing), it also is not about school shootings (kinda like how Hitchcock's "The Birds" is about everything but people being attacked by birds). The basic plot, despite a look at the American mundane (and death) follows a seemingly ordinary day at a high school that suddenly and inexplicable turns tragic. This film walks a fine line between being flat-out pretentious and inaccessible for most everyone, but also not. This is mainly because of the indie/experimental style used in it's creation. Despite this little point, the experimental artiness of it all is actually a big strength. Pretty much all the actors are nonprofessionals (or non actors period), and there's lots of long takes, slo-mo and handheld camerawork. Had this been a more mainstream or Hollywood type of film it wouldn't have been as good or powerful. The final fifteen minutes are done without any real emotion or music or slo-mo, making everything that happens all the more disturbing and unsettling. The film plays with time and sequence, but unlike stuff Tarantino does, it's not as immediately easy to follow. This bugged me a bit as it was hard to keep things in check, but at the same time, made things seem even more affecting since the whole movie is about a normal day that just goes horribly wrong with no real explanation or closure. Kinda like everyday life. This film is not for everyone, but should be seen by everyone at least once. Like I said as I started this review, it's "quite an experience".

Chris Weber
Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

Gus Van Sant's 'Elephant' made me sick in the stomach. Powerful and unsettling, masterful in its direction, editing and sound design. Never have I seen a film de-glamourise violence in this way. You dread it from the moment you see the two kids about to walk into school, and the non-linear timeline left me constantly feeling sick, knowing what's to come into to the lives of these unassuming, mundane teenagers we follow. The editing is brilliant, and the long tracking shots and camera movement in general is very distinct. Fleeting references to a first person shooter, the ease at which guns can be obtained, delivered by a cheerful delivery man to boot. Is this just Van Sant's view on how America is?

c0up  
c0up  

Super Reviewer

Elephant is a well crafted drama film directed by Gus Van Sant who paints a visceral violent portrait of how violence can find its way in high school. With an effective cast that tells a story that you can't ignore. This film paints a truthful portrait about high school life due to the fact that each character seems to be based on someone that we all went to high school with. Van Sant's directing moves at an effective, but slow pace just well enough for the viewer to get involved into its poignant story. Although not perfect, Elephant tells a compelling story that is a must see. This is a film that makes a you ask questions, and it's hard to forget. This is among Gus Van Sant's best films and it's a haunting portrait of what two teens that are pushed to edge can do in unthinkable circumstances. This a hard film to watch, but at the same time a necessary viewing. With a simple plot, Van Sant creates an unforgettable film that is riveting, sad and all too real. This film echoes the tragedy of the Columbine massacre. As a whole, Elephant is a well crafted drama with a great cast and effective directing that is aided by a sense of realism to its story. Due to its subject matter, this is not a film that should be seen by people who can't handle this type of film. This is an unrelenting brutal picture that is hard to watch and you will not easily forget it. As a whole this is a strong film that displays Van Sant's talents at his best. This is a truly unique film going experience

Alex roy
Alex roy

Super Reviewer

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