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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