Elephant (1989 film)

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Elephant (1989 film).jpg
Directed byAlan Clarke
Produced byDanny Boyle
CinematographyPhilip Dawson
John Ward
Edited byDon O'Donovan
Distributed byBBC Northern Ireland
Release date
25 January 1989 (UK)
Running time
39 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

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 is a clear influence on 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. ^ [1] Archived 13 May 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ [2] Archived 25 October 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Dennis Lim (31 August 2004). "Film". Village Voice. Retrieved 19 May 2014.
  4. ^ "Web Articles: CANNES 2003". Filmmaker Magazine. Retrieved 19 May 2014.

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