Elephant (TV Short 1989) Poster

(1989 TV Short)

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The bare facts? Or a crude simplification?
Lexo-227 August 1999
I saw Elephant when it was first broadcast on BBC TV in 1989. There was a certain amount of hoo-ha about it, as the BBC had already put it back for a few months - films about the North of Ireland were, and are, touchy subjects. Watching it is riveting. The complete absence of story, dialogue and explanation serves to bring home the fact that, after all the talk and propaganda and fine words about freeing Ireland from the British oppressors or defending Ulster from the filthy Taigs, killing is killing - people are dying, frequently and horribly, and can there ever be a "reason" for it? I grew up in sheltered south Dublin and witnessed the Troubles at second-hand, filtered through the language of journalism; Elephant brought home to me, in the most visceral way, the relentless insanity of the situation. The film should be compulsory viewing in UK and Irish schools.

The major criticism of Elephant is that it's too simple - that the lack of context and explanation aren't enough. But the serial nature of it, muder after murder after murder, have an unforgettable power. It's not meant to be an attempt at the overall picture; it's a cry of horror against an appalling situation. I saw it once, ten years ago, and have never forgotten it.

It was directed by the late Alan Clarke, undoubtedly the best director of TV Britain has ever seen (maybe the best British director since Michael Powell). He had already given early breaks to Tim Roth (in Made in Britain) and Gary Oldman (in The Firm - not the Tom Cruise vehicle, but a brutal TV movie about soccer hooliganism). The title comes from the writer Bernard MacLaverty, who said that the Troubles were like having an elephant in your living room. That's what it was like to watch this film.
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I notice nobody actually from Northern Ireland seems to have commented on this... I grew up in Belfast through some of the worst of the troubles (and have been personally affected by the actions of both loyalist and republican terrorists) and I have to say that for me this film is pretty much it in a nutshell. The desensitising effect mentioned by some of the other comments is precisely what happens in real life; the fact that stuff blows up occasionally and every so often someone gets shot dead eventually starts to just become part of the scenery. I've lost count of the number of times I saw people walking through Belfast stop in their tracks for a second or two as a bomb was detonated nearby then just continue on their way. You learn to live with it, and that's the real horror, which I think is something Clarke portrays here with an extraordinary degree of empathy. Possibly some of it's because so many of the places in the film were so familiar to me but it really hit home in a way that no other film explicitly about Northern Ireland has ever done for me.
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RobertF874 February 2005
This film was made for British television in 1988, the last film by it's controversial creator Alan Clarke. There's no story here at all. Set in Northern Ireland, the film depicts a series of seemingly random killings.

It is shot entirely on location with completely unknown actors. The film is quite disturbingly realistic. There is almost no dialogue in the film and absolutely no attempt to give the film any kind of context.

The film is certainly well-made and impressive but the initial sense of shock fades before the film is over and the repeated images soon become dull, which might be the film's most disturbing aspect. In a way the use of gliding camera movements following characters either to their own deaths or to kill someone else, as well as the film's frequent use of holding on the image of the victims for some time after the killings take place can work against the involvement you might feel for this film.

It is certainly worth watching, however. The casualness of the brutality and the haunting images linger for a long time after the end credits roll
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barnabyh-113 February 2007
I saw this film when it first came out and remember it so clearly. The film shows the executions in such a matter-of-fact way. No background swell of music. A loud bang or two. Shocked silence broken only by footsteps walking purposefully away from the scene. I was two streets away from the Guildford bombs when they went off in 1974. I remember I finished my pint before going to see what had happened - I guess I was young, then, but there was a feeling of acceptance amid the shock. We all knew what had happened. It was on the television constantly. As my friends and I approached the Horse and Groom the shouting was just starting. And then the sirens, but those very few minutes of silence after the bangs were the loudest of my life. This film showed what it was like.
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The best film about Ireland's sectarian violence
insomnia6 September 2008
Director Alan Clarke knew instinctively that to make a film about the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, could be politically suicidal. The violence was still going on when this film was made in 1989, after all. This is why "Elephant", in my opinion, was a stroke of genius. It doesn't get bogged down trying to walk the fine line of being neutral on such an explosive issue and appearing downright biased. No film about Ireland's "Troubles" will satisfy both Protestant and Catholic. The seeds of this catastrophe began when the British government decided to partition Ireland Ireland in 1921. Though the population of Northern Ireland was both Catholic and Protestant, the Catholics were in the minority, and were outrageously discriminated against by a political machine that was heavily Protestant. That's not to say that the Catholic population were not also responsible for incidents of provocation. Violence erupted on the twin anniversary of the Battle of The Somme and The Easter Uprising: the government's response was to bring in troops from Britain to control the violence. Then, in 1972, a British Parachute regiment killed thirteen demonstrators during a civil rights march, forever after known as "Bloody Sunday." From then on, the frequency of the confrontations between Catholic and Protestant, escalated and grew in intensity - in one year alone, over 500 men, women, and children were killed due to what was basically "Religious", as it was about self-rule. In thirty years, an estimated 3523 people lost their lives. Alan Clarke's answer in making a film about the "Troubles", is "Elephant." It is not the definitive film about Northern Ireland, but it is a brave, and I think successful, attempt, that Alan Clarke should be praised rather than denigrated. They say an elephant never forgets. Once seen, you'll never forget this film. It's interesting that Gus Van Sant used the same title for his film about the random act of violence at Columbine High School. Incidentally, eighteen years after his death, a boxed set of the films Alan Clarke is best known for, includes "Scum" (both the TV and theatrical release), "The Firm", "Made In Britain", and "Elephant", is finally available.
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Much more than just a portrayal about the troubles in Ireland.
Rodrigo_Amaro22 July 2013
The recurring action of "Elephant" consists of the camera closely following someone walking down a small path and then shooting other person, then the camera stays there with the victim for a little while. This goes on and on for about 40 minutes, and that's the whole movie. Pounding our minds with this cold-blooded, disturbing and unexplainable scenario, barely containing any dialog and not giving any reasons behind those acts, director Alan Clarke and his last film deals with 'the troubles' in Northern Ireland but it also seems more than just that. One can view it with a wider perception. Why such title? It comes from Bernard MacLaverty's description of the troubles as "the elephant in our living room", a reference to people's denial of the underlying social problems of Northern Ireland. But since no one's talking and the images are so powerful and universal, we can picture this as happening outside of Ireland, since the violence problem hits everywhere and almost everyone.

But what Clarke wanted to cause on us with those images? To desensitize us or to show that such can't be done at each single scene? The reflection is there for everyone to see, yet most of us we'll only consider "Elephant" as being repulsive, shocking, tasteless or pointless. By presenting things very randomly, he hits harder and with more brutality than any violent film ever made in that same decade. It's the shock of never knowing who's going to be the new victim or where the new attack is going to happen and most of all, why they are happening. We're there just as watchers, mere passers by looking at something unusual and frightening happening in front of us. It could have been a reason behind all the murders but it's invisible, hidden from us. It is said that the director re-enacted those from similar real events that took place in his country, terrorist attacks related with the troubles.

The penetrating, repetitive, poignant, insisting image doesn't comes from the act of violence but the everlasting effect of such. The dead bodies, lying on the ground. It is as if Clarke was trying to capture the soul getting out of the body or just waiting for a sign that they could have survived the brutal attacks they were victim of. No. It's a way of reminding us that a few seconds earlier someone was breathing, living, doing something and all that moment was gone. Why? But why? Because of something unimportant, small and even maybe a case of being at the wrong place, at the wrong time, crossing someone who needed to kill someone. Clarke wanted to show the banality of life, testing on us the effect all the murders would have on us.

With this silent criticism where only a gun being fired was the only voice who said a thing echoing for a long time, this is a haunting and unforgettable picture, and inspired another great "Elephant", the one directed by Gus Van Sant, who heavily worked on the same principle (criticism, shot compositions) but treating in the form of the Columbine incident. Both remarkable works. 10/10
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Watch people being shot, by the dozens
Bart-5313 July 1999
In this picture not a word is spoken. Probably set in Northern-Ireland it consists of several unrelated scenes in which we follow, with the familiar 'HandyCam' shots of Alan Clarke one or two characters for several minutes until they approach a person ... and shoot him. I think it's the atmosphere, the long buildup before the actual kill, the complete lack of both emotion and conversation that made this movie work for me. Ten years after seeing this film I still remember several scenes. It gave me the feeling that I was watching the way the killings really happen(ed) in Ireland. I wish they would repeat it someday on television.
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yah trick yah
noonward6 June 2014
No context given. No story to narrate. No elaborate set pieces or character actors. Maybe about 2 lines of dialogue. What else is there? Only the brutal reality of a country's dirty little secret. Many films about touchy political issues are analysed through a character's interpretation of how they think or how a particular story plays out but Clarke plays it out simply: people are dying... never mind the other stuff, death is caused through our own inability to absorb other people's views. The end factor being death is all that really needs to be shown to get the point across. Clarke makes fantastic use of tracking shots, slipping left and right and around to follow a person into their death.

It's provocative and probably the best TV movie ever made. I can't imagine people sitting down at night, tuning into the BBC and wondering what they should think about this mini masterpiece.
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"The single, most radical, television film ever made, both politically and ascetically!"
meddlecore22 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
What a brilliant film! It's been said that this is, "The single, most radical, television film ever made, both politically and ascetically!" Right from the get-go Clarke creates a setting of tension as we find ourselves following a man, unknowing of what is about to occour. We soon find out what we are about to witness- a number of pre-meditated murders in Northern Ireland- but do not know for what reasons. In this film Clarke pseudo-documents the most ugly social aspect of society in the most beautiful fashion. I would have to say that this is one of his most artistic films, in which he succeeds in, not only keeping the mood, but also creating a visually appealing masterpiece. Clarke takes us through a number of situations in which we either begin by following the killer or the victim. The fact that we are unaware of which we are following at the beginning of each new segment allows Clarke to maintain a mood of tension throughout the entire film, while also preventing things from becoming too predictable. One effective technique that he utilizes, is that he makes us take part in the killing. We witness the killings from the perspective of the killers, and are then forced to become onlookers of the pre-meditated crimes, reminding us that, though filmed very beautifully, we are witnessing a very ugly part of human nature. The realism of the scenes contribute to the overall mood of the film. Some scenes were especially affective in creating feelings of tension and unease, as we know something is going to happen, but when? and by whom? remains unclear. These scenes tended to be some of the most memorable, including the football scene and the double murder by shotgun in the upper level apartment. All this considered, I would have to agree with the quote mentioned at the beginning, that this is definitely one of the most radical films, politically and ascetically, ever made for television. As I could not imagine such a film being played on television these days without evoking a dramatically angry response from most conservative viewers. But you have to remember that this film was meant to evoke a response, both within ourselves, and in turn within society, and it succeeds in doing so. I would definitely recommend this film for all mature viewers as it is both artistically appealing and entertaining. A definite 10 out of 10!!
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Slacker with double barrel shotguns
danieljfenner26 September 2017
This short film serves two purposes. It provides a chilling perspective on the anonymity of civil conflict and it offers a meditation on violence in the media. The premise is equally primitive and thought- provoking.

It simply follows around random, casually dressed men (who look like members of The Smiths and Big Country) as they slay other men in dilapidated Belfast settings. The minimal soundtrack of footsteps and gunfire creates a hypnotic and creepy atmosphere. All of the sound and lack thereof is necessary. The closeups of the handguns are necessary, as are the lingering shots of post-mortem bodies. Seconds can feel like minutes. Clarke's attempt to confront the audience forces us to ponder the dehumanization of The Troubles in Northern Ireland.

The irony behind the appeal of this film is that for those who wish to watch violent action movies just for the sake of the spectacle of violence will be the most disappointed. That is exactly why this film is so important. It numbs us to violence. The lack of a narrative provides us the question of why we want to see what we are seeing. To turn gratuitous, prolonged violence into something boring becomes a statement on how desensitized a society can become to death and war.
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Theo Robertson14 July 2002
Someone want`s to do a realistic docudrama on sectarian killings in Northern Ireland ? Fine , but ELEPHANT`s not it . Alan Clarke seems to be under the impression that sectarian death squads are composed entirely of young men shooting dead other young men but the reality is somewhat different . In Northern Ireland during the troubles both loyalist and republican terrorists ( Both of which contain men and women , young and old ) viewed anyone from the other side as a legitimate target , it didn`t matter about your politics or religion , your age or sex as long as you lived in the Shankhill or the Falls you were fair game. And the method of murder dealt differs somewhat from ELEPHANT , a car bomb in a street of Saturday shoppers was a favourite with republicans while capturing an innocent passer by and torturing them to death with a stanley knife and red hot poker was a common practice amongst loyalists . Watching ELEPHANT you`d believe that people die quick and painless deaths - untrue. Many of victims of terrorism had their coffin lids screwed shut at their funerals so their families wouldn`t be allowed to see the horrific mutilations they`d suffered , the way they died were even more unforgivable than the fact they died in the first place . If you want to get educated about the horrors of the troubles give ELEPHANT a miss and read a book by someone like Martin Dillon who knows what he`s talking about
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style over substance, but the style is brilliant
framptonhollis28 January 2019
A series of scenes depicting acts of sudden violence absent of character and plot. A premise so repetitive sounds like it would be a bore to watch but Alan Clarke's cinematic eye helps make the 1989 short film 'Elephant' almost hypnotic. Using a wide lens and constant stedicam shots following anonymous killers, Clarke sculpts a vision that is unique and, in many ways, powerful. Clarke's visual style makes almost every shot, aside from the brief closeups of gunfire found in each scene, feel as if it is depicting something from afar. The audience is always made to feel somewhat distant from the cryptic figures at the center of the sequences. Almost everything about Clarke's approach makes the film feel cold and, in a way, brutally nihilistic. The differences of each scene's location, actors, etc. become more notable than the careless murders said scenes depict. There is a point somewhere in the middle of the film in which a character actually says a line or two of dialogue and it is legitimately more shocking than the violence that inevitably follows. Alan Clarke makes you numb and coats the viewer with an unnerving deadpan atmosphere. It's a miserable film that almost certainly goes on for longer than it needs to, but it is also fascinating and, in a way, oddly investing.
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What is going on?
Horst_In_Translation16 July 2015
Warning: Spoilers
"Elephant" is a 36-minute short film from over 25 years ago. It was one of the last works of director Alan Clarke before he died from cancer. The film's produces is Academy Award-winning director Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire"). Well what can one say about this. It's basically from start to finish men walking around shooting other men, in the streets, in warehouses, in offices etc. We do not find out who the killers are and we don't know who the victims are. There is no real dialog in here, especially the killers are always quiet. There is some irony to it, some black humor for sure when for example one of the murderers plays football with his victim. And he does not kill all of them. So maybe they are contract killers? Then again, some act pretty amateurish for that when they keep pushing bullets in the already dead body. Anyway, you certainly do not have to fear graphic violence and maybe also need a bit of a sadistic touch when you watch this. Strange little short film. All in all, not recommended. It just gets repetitive at some point and should not have crossed the 20-minute mark in my opinion.
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Takes away a little bit of innocence you didn't know you still had.
GiraffeDoor1 December 2019
The height of minimalism. I can imagine watching this at the time and place it was meant to be watched and having the feeling of being punched in the face but not sure by whom.

Hard to watch, partly because the movie really strains the patience. But knowing the background, I sort of want to admire it. It's uncompromising, deliberately unlovely and has no interest in winning a popularity contest.

If one goes in with the patience required, it's a hypnotic and nauseatingly real that sends a message clear as day without the obnoxiousness of actually saying it: this isn't cool, people are dying. It's not an action movie anymore. A sort of anti-action movie. A lot of it is conceptual, sort of like a Pollack painting only a lot less self-indulgent.

Impossible to forget.
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An incredibly emotional film without words
deanharley-544314 September 2018
A movie that you are so moved by that you are brought to confusion and then despair and ultimately to witnessing unforgettable atrocities of sadness and destruction. The name of this movie is clearly a metaphor for the mass destruction seen by gun wielding individuals and the gigantically senseless violence caused which is just as powerful and moving as Gus Van Sant's inspired film of the same name.
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I guess everyone had a reason
jokexom27 August 2012
The film is made up of 18 short films, showing unjustified killings. In each part of this strange thriller, a murderer and a sacrifice and usually but them in the shot no one.

The painting "Elephant", is filled with a cold, so a neutral atmosphere. If from what you can get here is a pleasure as the mood of the film. All shorts are designed in one color, unrelated, they still look very harmonious.

This film may be a benefit for young filmmakers to make films, in which there are scenes of murder.

Of course, if you look at the film with plenty of imagination, it can be to make up the history of each murder, thereby determining why it happened.

After a while, after this film, there is a picture of Gus Van Sant, going by the same name. There definitely is a connection there, because in one of the interviews himself Van Sant said that after watching the "elephant" Clark, he wanted to withdraw his "Elephant." I think he is right and is the spectator Clark, who watched this movie with plenty of imagination. That imagined Van Sant, the mass murder at the school, and quite original show cause, not as pure, but the name speaks for itself, the problem is definitely there, it is just in the minds of others, there is much we would not get. Both elephants, a very similar atmosphere that captivates the viewer, who manages the end to inspect these movies.
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An elephant never forgets
Prismark104 December 2013
The Troubles in Northern Ireland inspired a lot films and dramas. Some more controversial than others.

Alan Clarke's Elephant was totally left field. When the BBC broadcast it, they were inundated with complaints on television programs such as 'Points of View.'

Never before we had a television drama, almost wordless where one person shoots another person, a few minutes later someone else shoots another and so on and so on.

Be they working in a petrol station, in a swimming pool, playing football, eating in a restaurant, at home or walking in the park, someone blasts them.

These horrific random acts of violence in due course desensitizes us to the violence. Maybe even render us bored and confused.

Without dialogue we are unsure as to what is happening and just seeing people walking about until they take a gun out and shoot somebody.

Alan Clarke was an early adopter of the Steadicam for television work which means we follow the various people out and about as the camera operator is alongside them.

This was one of Clarke's last works. He died a year later. Seeing Elephant again when the film is almost 25 years old, I was struck that this is now a period piece.

Northern Ireland has moved on since the peace process of the 1990s.
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Blood on the Tracks
tieman6427 May 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Alan Clarke's "Elephant" consists of a series of long Steadicam shots, each dispassionately following either assassins or their targets, and each culminating with someone being gunned down in cold blood. The film forces us to witness 18 murders, contains virtually no dialogue, and maintains a dry, detached, documentarian tone throughout.

The film's title refers to the many murders – elephants in the room which were routinely overlooked by the local media - which took place within Northern Ireland during "The Troubles", a roughly three decade long period in which Northern Ireland's Roman Catholic, nationalist community, were at odds with its Unionist Community, who identified themselves as being British. The film is designed to convey a certain inexorable feeling, that violence begets violence, that these killings are pointless, senseless, horrific, futile and directed against ordinary, innocent, working class people, but Clarke's removal of all historical context will baffle and mislead modern audiences, and the film – schematic and calculated – at times partakes in the same cruelty it abhors.

If the film is simplistic, it does well (perhaps unintentionally), to banalize the violence it presents. By the 18th killing, you're no longer shocked, and are left instead with an overwhelming sense of frustration and futility. This captures not only the desensitisation of late 80s Northern Ireland, but the moment when desires arose for the pursuit of other solutions.

The film hit 80s Britain like a bolt of lighting. Clarke, known for his social realism, had shocked before, but here his angry cry for peace was deemed particularly timely. Some semblance of peace was achieved four years later, with the 1994, First Ceasefire agreement.

8/10 – Worth one viewing. The film would have a huge influence on Gus Van Sant's "Elephant".
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Tip: this movie can be found as a feature on Gus van Sant's DVD
BartKloosterboer20 April 2006
I already gave my comments as Bart-53. Gus vanSant made my day by putting this movie as a feature on his DVD by the same name (Elephant). It was quite a few years ago that I saw this movie on TV and I have regretted ever since that I did not tape it to VHS as I had done with all the other films by Alan Clarke (the BBC showed most of his movies over a period of some weeks). Other beauties by Alan Clark are Scum (introducing Tim Roth) and The Firm (introducing Gary Oldman). I thought I would never see this movie ever again until I recently rented Gus vanSant's Elephant. According to the interview with him, which is also a feature on his DVD, he was made aware of Alan Clarke's movie by a friend. Gus vanSant's Elephant is an entirely different movie (based on the Columbine killings), but he was definitely influenced by Alan Clarkes style of filming (long steadycam shots in which we follow characters). Although the topic is no longer an issue (Northern Ireland killings) this is still a must-see movie.
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A Nasty Piece 'a'werk
cstewart-528 April 2006
I remember watching this when I was 15 years and living in the country south of Belfast, it caused a bit of a stir. So what! It was a well aligned look at the madness that was going' those days.

The film was great, but will serve as a dirty birthmark on future generations.

The colors of the print represent the dark-blue rainy place well, the angles are fresh, but a camera and a filter can't elude reality. The silence is in-line with the unfortunate soul who may get finished off in this film, or?

For the future generations in Ulster I would burn this film.
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A Writing Credit?
keith_b3 January 2008
I was greatly amused at the writing credit for Bernard MacLaverty. Oh, you mean when that one guy said nothing or that other man didn't speak. Yeah, that's quotable stuff, all right. Certainly he wrote placement material used by the producer, although it is an absolute affront to say that he "wrote" anything.

Still, it does give me a specific to use when pretentious people drool over lesser-known films. I can now praise MacLaverty's dialog and see what unfolds from there.

The anonymity of the actions does reinforce the idea that violence can come at any turn and is never a proper solution. For that, I appreciated the film and its intent.
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Very slow...
NCBarna27 July 2004
Despite the fact that I enjoyed the movie, the slow pace really took

away from the movie's entertainment value. I thought that Elephant

had great potential as far as a hit goes but what it lacked was a

punching moment. Sure there was the school shooting part but we

figured out that was going to happen ages before it actually did so

we came to expect it.

One thing that I can rave about in this film was the camera angles.

I loved how the camera seemed to be following the actor. And

each shot was a piece of art on it's own. It made the movie

respectable really. I can't say that I would have even finished

watching Elephant if it wasn't for it captivating camera work.

Overall, Elephant was an enjoyable flick that I would definitely

recommend to someone in search of an "artsy" film.
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