Register  |   Log In  |  
Sign up to our weekly newsletter    
Search   
Empire Magazine and iPad
Follow Me on Pinterest YouTube Tumblr
Empire
Trending On Empire
Empire's New Tom Cruise Cover
The Jameson Empire Awards 2014
Vote: The Greatest 301 Movies Of All Time!
Rebecca Hall:
My Movie Life

The actress picks the movies that shaped her
Mountain Dew Green Screen
Register Now to see X-MEN First Class!
Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

FILM DETAILS
Certificate
15
Cast
Alex Frost
Eric Deulen
John Robinson.
Directors
Gus Van Sant.
Screenwriters
Gus Van Sant.
Running Time
81 minutes

LATEST FILM REVIEWS
An Episode In The Life Of An Iron Picker
4 Star Empire Rating
Cupcakes
3 Star Empire Rating
You & Me Forever
4 Star Empire Rating
Looking For Light: Jane Brown
3 Star Empire Rating
Informant, The
2 Star Empire Rating



5 STAR REVIEWS
Rebel Without A Cause
5 Star Empire Rating
Calvary
5 Star Empire Rating
Wake In Fright
5 Star Empire Rating
Stranger By The Lake
5 Star Empire Rating
Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?
5 Star Empire Rating

Elephant
Gus Van Sant's account of a Columbine style shooting


submit to reddit


Plot
An ordinary day in an ordinary school, with students working, flirting, whining and wandering, caught up in mundane concerns. Then Alex and Eric, two of their schoolmates, show up with gym bags full of guns and set out to kill as many people as possible


Review
It was inevitable that someone would make a movie about the Columbine High School shootings, and it's probably inevitable that several more films will follow Gus Van Sant's low-key, blankly devastating, simple account of a day in an American high school which ends as two teenagers murder a number of their schoolfellows and teachers for reasons that will never be clear.

Some have put Elephant's surprise Palme d'Or win at Cannes down to a reaction to the momentous nature of its subject rather than any inherent cinematic achievement; in fact, it's not even a movie movie but was shot for the US cable channel HBO. However, it's not a TV-style true crime exploitation picture but a restless, improvised back-and-forth that would probably be dull (like Van Sant's interminable but similarly handled Gerry) were it not for the foreboding that comes from the fragility of the youths (almost all well above average in looks) and the long following shots as we get time-overlapping snippets of the day of the massacre.

We latch onto a cross-section of kids, from playground demi-gods to a quietly nerdy girl, and have time to get a sense of who they are on the point of becoming before the killers (Alex Frost, Eric Deulen) show up in combat gear with their stash of internet-ordered weaponry.

The second half is about the murderers' backgrounds (the cast mostly use their real first names rather than playing the kids from Columbine), with a lot of cultural baggage (murder-spree video games, classical piano, a TV doc about Hitler, semi-gay shower clinches, automatic weapon target practice in the woodshed) that still don't 'explain' the unfathomable.

We see the note-taking and mapping prep for the atrocity, with a chilly sign-off ("The most important thing, have fun"). The massacre isn't sensationalised, with snippets of the action intercut with credible moments of people wandering around not knowing what's going on and living or dying for no fault of their own.

It's deliberately studied, with punctuating shots of the calm sky and long takes that strain patience. In the end, it's basically a statement that this happened and could too easily happen again – undiluted by the editorialising that a conventional picture, or even a Michael Moore documentary, would be compelled to add.


Verdict
Van Sant’s least ‘show-offy’, most personal, best picture in years (maybe ever), and an honourable attempt at respectfully considering the unbearable.


Reviewed by Kim Newman

Write Your Review
To write your review please login or register.

Your Reviews

Average user rating for Elephant
Empire Star Rating

fairly interesting idea for a film, but the finished piece is easily forgettable

nothing special about this film, nothing that particularly holds your attention. thought it would be better.........it wasn't overall rather dull ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by WhiteRabbit23 at 20:59, 10 August 2009 | Report This Post


Definately not for everyone...

. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bramvh at 14:11, 18 May 2009 | Report This Post


Definately not for everyone...

This movie is very slow, a lot of long takes and a very thin plot. For some people this is a reason to literarly hate this movie. So if you only like films such as mission impossible or other films with rapid editing you should not waste any time on this movie. This movie aint a cool shootup fest ... at all... Having said that, now about the film. This movie registers events on a great way by showing everything the way it happened without cutting every boring line out. This way you will get ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bramvh at 14:10, 18 May 2009 | Report This Post


But why..?

this is a good movie. it's cold, stark, and uncompromising. the only thing i would say is that this movie gives you no answers as to why. we already don't know why they did it. van sant doesn't attempt to give us any further answers so his is an exercise in further not knowing. so we still dont know why any one would do such a thing. if that his point, that we cannot know then he did a good job. but we already knew that from the actual massacre....he just confirmed that we cannot know. which is ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by dhowdy at 22:12, 08 February 2009 | Report This Post


This has got to get at least 4 stars. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lego_9000 at 02:11, 02 October 2006 | Report This Post



CURRENT HIGHLIGHTS
Ten Things To Know About The Spooks Movie
Under the hood of The Greater Good

Who’s In Spider-Man’s Sinister Six?
A bluffer’s guide to the planned spin-off from the Amazing Spider-films

14 YouTube Videos Every Game Of Thrones Fan Should Have Watched By Now
From goats singing the theme tune to every death in under three minutes

Hollywood's Biggest Names On Their Favourite Films
Stars and directors like Nolan, Whedon, Wright and Ford on the films that inspire them

The Remake Report: Hollywood's Do-Overs Coming Our Way
The redoes, remakes, reboots, reworkings and reimaginings headed our way…

The Nebraska Playlist
Alexander Payne programmes a movie marathon for us

More Found Footage: Another 25 Trailers That Tease Missing Scenes
Further sequences that disappeared between promo and final cut

Subscribe to Empire iPad edition
Get The Empire iPad Edition Today

Subscribe and save money on annual digital subscription

Subscribe today
Buy single issues

Subscribe to Empire magazine
Get Limited Edition Collectable X-Men Art Cards

Subscribe today and get 6 issues of Empire plus a set of collectable X-Men Art Cards for only £20!

Subscribe today

Get 12 Issues Of Empire For Just £25
Receive limited edition subscribers-only covers every month Subscribe today!
Empire's Film Studies 101 Series
Everything you ever wanted to know about filmmaking but were afraid to ask...
The Empire iPad Edition
With exclusive extras, interactive features, trailers and much more! Download now
Home  |  News  |  Blogs  |  Reviews  |  Future Films  |  Features  |  Interviews  |  Images  |  Competitions  |  Forum  |  iPad  |  Podcast  |  Magazine Contact Us  |  Empire FAQ  |  Subscribe To Empire  |  Register
© Bauer Consumer Media Ltd  |  Legal Info  |  Privacy Policy  |  Bauer Entertainment Network
Bauer Consumer Media Ltd (company number 01176085 and registered address 1 Lincoln Court, Lincoln Road, Peterborough, England PE1 2RF)