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Elephant (1989 film)

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Directed byAlan Clarke
Produced byDanny Boyle
CinematographyPhilip Dawson
John Ward
Edited byDon O'Donovan
Distributed byBBC Northern Ireland
Release date
  • 25 January 1989 (1989-01-25) (UK)
Running time
38 minutes
CountryNorthern Ireland

Elephant is a 1989 British short film directed by Alan Clarke and produced by Danny Boyle. The film is set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and its title comes from Bernard MacLaverty's description of the conflict as "the elephant in our living room" — a reference to the collective denial of the underlying social problems of Northern Ireland. Produced by BBC Northern Ireland, it first screened on BBC2 in 1989. The film was first conceived by Boyle, who was working as a producer for BBC Northern Ireland at the time.[1]

The film, which contains very little dialogue, depicts eighteen murders and is partly based on actual events drawn from police reports at the time. It is shot with 16mm film with much of it filmed using a steadicam and features a series of tracking shots, a technique the director used regularly. The grainy 16mm film, together with the lack of dialogue, plot, narrative and music, give the film a cold, observational documentary feel. Nothing is learnt about any of the gunmen or victims. Each of the murders is carried out calmly and casually; in one scene the gunman is seen to drive away slowly, even stopping to give way for traffic. Most of the vignettes end with the camera lingering on the motionless body of the victim.

As with several of Clarke's films, Elephant received high praise and attracted controversy. After watching the film, Clarke's contemporary David Leland wrote: "I remember lying in bed, watching it, thinking, 'Stop, Alan, you can't keep doing this.' And the cumulative effect is that you say, 'It's got to stop. The killing has got to stop.' Instinctively, without an intellectual process, it becomes a gut reaction."[2]

The film influenced Gus Van Sant's 2003 film Elephant, based on the Columbine High School Massacre. Van Sant's film borrowed not only Clarke's title, but also closely mirrors his minimalist style.[3][4]


  1. ^ "Past Productions - Singles 1985-1989". BBC Northern Ireland. Archived from the original on 13 May 2005.
  2. ^ Slarek (12 November 2004). "The way of the gun". DVD Outsider. Archived from the original on 25 October 2006.
  3. ^ Lim, Dennis (31 August 2004). "Film". The Village Voice. Archived from the original on 22 June 2008. Retrieved 19 May 2014.
  4. ^ Cowan, Noah (27 June 2003). "CANNES 2003". Filmmaker Magazine. Archived from the original on 14 December 2004. Retrieved 19 May 2014.

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