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The surprise recipient of the Palme d'Or at Cannes 2003, Van Sant's movie began life as a conventional Hollywood psychological drama inspired by the massacre of 12 students and a teacher by two teenagers at Columbine High School, in Littleton, Colorado, on 20 April 1999. It mutated into something more abstract and more personal. Filmed in long, languorous travelling shots (like Van Sant's Gerry, it's influenced by Béla Tarr, as well as the Alan Clarke film about sectarian murders from which the director took his title), sometimes slowing almost imperceptibly to savour a fleeting emotion, Elephant sucks us into the lives of some half dozen students. It slips easily between them over the course of what seems an uneventful schoolday (Van Sant allowed his cast of unknowns to improvise within the overlapping chronological structure he'd mapped out) until some 30 minutes in we get a premonition of the atrocity in store. Weakest when it comes to 'motivation' (whatever that is), the film doesn't try to explain, but to put us in a subjective time and space, a place where it's impossible not to feel the abject horror of random violence. In that sense, it's as much about experiencing 9/11 as it is about Columbine. (Produced by HBO and shot in a ratio of 1:33.) TCh.

Release details

Duration: 85 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Gus Van Sant
Screenwriter: Gus Van Sant
Cast: Matt Molloy
Timothy Bottoms
John Robinson
Alex Frost
Eric Deulen
Elias McConnell
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