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Generally favorable reviews- based on 121 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 85 out of 121
  2. Negative: 31 out of 121

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  1. Jul 5, 2013
    In the wake of the Columbine school shootings, there was much discussion and sensationalism around what could have motivated the two killers to commit such horrific acts before taking their own lives. Elephant explores this question by giving us a window into the harrowing final moments of a pair of fictional high school murderers, as well as their victims.

    The film follows several
    different students in the hour that leads up to the beginning of the violence, showing us the normality of their day to day lives. These segments are surprisingly engrossing, considering it's just people going about their business and interacting with the world that they inhabit. The perpetrators are included in this and are revealed to be pretty average teenagers. The lack of hyperbole in the portrayal is chilling and it's a quality that typifies the tone of the picture as a whole. The documentary feel of the style feeds into this and further accentuates the unspectacular nature of the day, though it's not just the pragmatic approach to filming that is important in this regard.

    The cast are made up of untrained high school students, most of whom carry their real names on-screen as well as off. Personally, I found this a little eerie, but that may perhaps have been the point. There were apparently no prepared lines to speak of, Van Sant preferring to allow the amateurs to improvise. This not only helps give the dialogue a genuine flavour, but also avoids any complications that could have arisen through unskilled acting combined with trying to remember what to say. Ultimately, the freedom that is given makes for performances that feel remarkably natural, providing an atmosphere of unsettling realism.

    There's also much to appreciate as far as the cinematography is concerned. The incredibly long takes that follow the students as they go through the day are impressive, taking in the bustling environment of the school and its inhabitants. Considering the leisurely pace of the editing, it's perhaps somewhat surprising that the film is almost unbearably tense at times. The knowledge of what is to come coupled with the blissful unawareness of the characters is largely responsible for this. It's an aspect that becomes even more effective once panic begins to spread, confusion, chaos and disbelief replacing the mundane.

    As an experience, it can be hard to watch, though in the best possible way. The lack of movie conventions, particularly in terms of gunplay, makes the action that much more moving. There's nothing in the way of stylistic affectation applied and the detached coldness that this provides mirrors the attitude of the killers, bringing the events home with a shockingly powerful impact.
  2. May 10, 2011
    What makes this movie so wonderful is the fact that Van Sant doesn't offer simple answers, because no one knew what was really going through those kids minds. He portrays an ordinary high school taken over and does so with an incredibly haunting style.
  3. Aug 5, 2012
    This is one of those movies that is not for everyone. This is a very "directorial" movies, by that I mean you will either like the style and find it interesting or you will dislike it and find it extremely boring. I really liked the style that Gus Van Sant went for. The the various point of views of the characters, the slow pacing and the improvised dialogue all added to the movie, it made it fell very organic. Also the slow pacing made you fell very comfortable, almost like it was trying to make you let you guard down for what we all know is inevitably going to happen. Also the slow pacing and random people talking and thing happening around the focus character just reinforce the feeling of realness. Because in reality highschool is like that, it is boring, it is slow, things happen around you that you don't affect you or you participate in, and that also makes what happens even more devastating. As for the acting, it was all very good especially considering that this was most (if not all) of their first time acting. Alex Frost was definitely the stand out for me, as was Eric Deulen. Also the movies also isn't preachy, it doesn't force anything down your throat, it just presents what happens and leaves you to make your own decisions on why things happened. And if you do watch it, keep in mind that the majority of the movie takes place within the period of about ten minutes. 8.8/10 Expand
  4. Sep 20, 2010
    Through the end, this movie is quite dreary, gloomy, and even egregious for some explicitly violent scenes. However, Van Sant makes this movie astonishing, and this move is totally sensational.
  5. Mar 31, 2011
    Gus Van Sant--A **** genius. This is one of the greatest movies that he's done. And that would be saying a lot, considering his track record. It's just brilliant.
  6. Mar 27, 2011
    This movie is so bad, it is not even worth writing a review about. It is beyond ridiculous. It looks like a home video, with bad dialogue and bad acting, freakish characters, no plot, no pace, no nothing. How can anyone give this a rave review ? I wonder why it is that you have to endure 99 **** movies, just to find one good one. It is like searching for the needle in the haystack. I think the problem is that with today's technology, everybody can make films, so there is a lot more crap out there than before, when studios had to think of something good, because it cost a lot of money to make films, and they had to make sure they would make it back. This film is the bottom of the barrel. Expand
  7. Jan 6, 2011
    An absolutely stunning movie. I understand that many doesn't like it, but I loved it.
    It was one of the most beautiful movie I've ever seen, and it is patient and doesn't run to the action. All the characters seems natural, unlike most blockbusters were the characters doesn't act as they would in real life. It shows the beauty of life, and it makes you reflect over everyone 's life.

    who say it sucked, probably want something to happen in a movie, and they don't go to art exhibitions regularly. When you watch this movie, you have to enjoy it. If you just watch it just for entertainment, you won't get much out of it. Expand
  8. Apr 29, 2011
    An amazing movie. As you can see by all the negative votes, it's not one of the idiotic, spezial-effect packed movies that you see in the cinemas too often. It showcases the incident without creating the "good ones" and the "bad ones". It's up to one to judge. If all you want to see is pure action without anything even close to a story, skip this one, because this will make you think. Overall a great movie, but not really suited for everyone. Expand
  9. May 20, 2013
    Here we go. And I thought "Natural Born Killers" was bad. I was glad that I had some cold drinks while "Date Movie" was playing, even gladder to turn it off.

    And now, possibly the worst film ever made, "Elephant".

    Don't read this if you have any intention of seeing this movie. I suggest you do something more rewarding though...have you clipped your toenails? You could also count the
    grains of salt in a salt shaker, that could be okay.

    I wasn't offended by the content, but by the complete banality of this movie. I know, I know, it was supposed to be like "real" life. It's supposed to be "art". But just because something is filmed differently doesn't mean it's any good.

    Here is the story (you don't need to read this if you know anything about the Columbine school shooting): It's a regular day at high school, until two misfit kids bring in guns and kill a bunch of people. There you go.

    This movie was LAZY. There was not one good character in this film. Of course, this was also for the purpose of being more "real", but come on. The "protagonists" were cookie cutter stereotypes the artsy photographer, the jock, the bulimic girls, the cafeteria workers smoking weed, etc...etc........And the acting! Yikes. The scene at the end, where the blond kid is "warning" others not to enter the school? I doubt the script's instructions said "With little-no urgency". Think "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" (Gene Wilder) in the scenes where the kids are going to so something bad and Wonka goes, "Oh. no. stop. don't."

    Apart from the piano playing (and even malicious teen boys who are into Beethoven is NOT an original idea, hello, Clockwork Orange), the boys who bring the guns into the school at the end are such a cliche slightly less good looking than the other kids, dressed in military clothes, into Nazis ("Heavens to Betsy! They're watching videos of Hitler! They're EVIL, I just caught on!") and violent video games, homosexual tendencies (of course the homosexual kids HAVE to be the f***ed up outcasts, right?) wasn't even clear that they were being antagonized at school apart from a spitball being thrown at one of them at one point.

    Instead of, well, anything, we are subjected to watching the back of some kid's head to the soundtrack of Beethoven's ENTIRE "Moonlight Sonata" as he walks through his (very extensive) high school grounds. We are subjected to the same scene played repeatedly through "different perspectives". We are shown a bunch of clouds throughout Beethoven's "Fur Elise." Please.

    And let's not forget about the movie's "messages", which were about as subtle as a sledgehammer. Real art raises, and even answers questions. This movie just insulted my intelligence. Yes, guns are WAYYY to easy to obtain in the USA (although I don't think Van Sant did his research for the scene in "Elephant"). Yes, no one takes the time to KNOW these kids, and we'll never know the reason for this senseless tragedy. Yes, parents should be more present in their kids' lives. Yes, violence is awful and pointless. Oh yeah, and school shootings are X-tra baaaad.

    Gus Van Sant just took advantage of a subject people were sensitive about. Gus Van Sant capitalizes on real tragedy with this thing.

    It had nothing to say. It's just awful and possibly insulting for people who had to deal with these issues in real life, and not on some cushy, pretentious art-house movie set.
  10. Nov 28, 2012
    The subject matter is utterly appalling, but there's no doubting it's a very well made film.
  11. Apr 12, 2013
    it disturbs me as to how many of those "users" who reviewed this film did so only at face value, and did nothing more than judge it by it's superficial exterior without giving any thought of it's social commentary. Maybe they'd forgotten that typical high school tropes (once viewed as benign) had taken a dramatic and violent left turn over the course of the last 30 years. Maybe they've forgotten the dirty ramifications of our countries past and flippant attitude pertaining the law of guns (using the second amendment as the proverbial crutch to further purify their agenda). Maybe, and just maybe, a movie like 'Elephant' gives supporters of lax gun laws another reason to cry bloody murder, re-thrown back towards the film industry. Who knows. regardless, there is a story to tell in Gus Van Sant's shocking (though cathartic) tale of a typical (or "typically violent") day in america's public school system......and for once, it doesn't have to be soft, or even pretty.

    not a bad film (though not an extraordinary film) 'elephant' is a vivid and fictional depiction of a typical American high school shooting; one that nearly mimicks to the 'T' the events of April 20, 1999....or simply, the Columbine Massacre. Whether it mimicks it or not, it follows in a series of many shootings that has kept the nation in proverbial stalemate, often times being the catalyst to current gun laws and the feasability of an archaic second amendment to the American constitution. No matter what side of the fence you reside on, the connotations of lax gun laws in this film are not only prevalent, but glaring. Take for instance a scene depicting an 18 year old kid purchasing a high powered assault rifle over the internet. Is that troubling enough for you?

    This isn't exactly a far fetched Suspense/Horror film shot with an art-house aesthetic.......these things actually happen.

    Whether there is validity in the films claims, it really doesn't matter. Albeit, not entirely a moot point, the fact that the fllm was still met with a barrage of unnecessary bad reviews says a lot about our nations apathy towards gun violence, and the kids who remain victim of it today.

    As for the is a bit trite and somewhat pretentious at times. It still manages a decent commentary on today's standards of low morals, false empowerment (by both the bullies and those who kill them) and the collective apathetic eye of the world. If you are bothered by this movie, or in any way find it to be in bad taste, try to remember what you did the day you learned about the Sandy Hook Murders. If you only read an article about it, congrats. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, absolute congrats. If you can tell me the name of the killer, some of the names of the children, the rifle that was used in the killings and some of the conspiracy theories passed around the internet........well, then you are in fact the reason major news corps love reporting on these things; 24/7 and for the world to see. *3.5 out of 5 stars"
  12. Mar 31, 2013
    A glorified re-enactment which offers little more than a Wikipedia entry on the matter.
  13. Jul 23, 2013
    I pretty much liked the style of the film, I thought it was interesting. But at the end of the movie, there were too many walking sequences, and too little character development. I felt like they could have done more with it. At least, that's my opinion.

Generally favorable reviews - based on 37 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 25 out of 37
  2. Negative: 2 out of 37
  1. 60
    In the end, this odd, beautiful movie is remote and more suggestive than satisfying--a coolly impassive film about catastrophe made at a time when some of us might prefer an attempt at explanation. And yet Elephant is something to see. [27 October 2003, p. 112]
  2. It’s just another example of art-house hokey-pokey. Amazingly, this film won both the Palme d’Or and Best Director Award at Cannes, beating out, among others, "Mystic River."
  3. Reviewed by: Glenn Kenny
    I haven't been crazy about a lot of Van Sant's recent work, but what he does here is simply astonishing. [November 2003, p. 25]