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Elephant - Alex Frost, Eric Deulen, John Robinson, Gus Van Sant

Threat advisory: High - High risk of entertaining activities

Movie propaganda

An ordinary high school day. Except that it's not.

Elephant unfolds on an ordinary day, filled with class work, football, gossip and socialising. The film observes the comings and goings of its characters from a gentle remove, allowing us to see them as they are. For each of the students we meet, high school is a different experience: stimulating, friendly, traumatic, lonely, hard. Beautiful and poetic - yet deeply disturbing - Elephant shows high school life as a complex landscape where the vitality and incandescent beauty of young lives can shift from light to darkness with surreal speed.

It's a beautiful fall day, and golden leaves skitter ahead of the wind across green lawns. Walking through the park on his way to class, Eli (Elias McConnell) persuades a punk rock couple to pose for some photographs. Nate (Nathan Tyson) finishes football practice and goes to meet his girlfriend Carrie (Carrie Finklea) for lunch. John (John Robinson) leaves his dad's car keys in the school office for his brother to pick up. In the cafeteria, Brittany (Brittany Mountain), Jordan (Jordan Taylor) and Nicole (Nicole George) gossip and complain about their mothers' snooping. Michelle (Kristen Hicks) dashes to the library, while Eli snaps some photos of John in the hallway. John walks out onto the lawn, crossing paths with Alex and Eric.

Theatrical propaganda posters

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Target demographic movie keyword propaganda

  • Film school shooting killing clique teen drama

Persons of interest

  • Alex Frost .... Alex
  • Eric Deulen .... Eric
  • John Robinson .... John McFarland
  • Elias McConnell .... Elias
  • Jordan Taylor .... Jordan
  • Carrie Finklea .... Carrie
  • Nicole George .... Nicole
  • Brittany Mountain .... Brittany
  • Alicia Miles .... Acadia
  • Kristen Hicks .... Michelle
  • Bennie Dixon .... Benny
  • Nathan Tyson .... Nathan
  • Timothy Bottoms .... Mr McFarland
  • Matt Malloy .... Mr Luce
  • Jason Seitz .... Nate
  • Chantelle Chriestenson .... Noelle
  • Gus Van Sant .... Screenwriter
  • Gus Van Sant .... Director

Cinematic intelligence sources

Intelligence analyst

Special Agent Matti

Theatrical report

Elephant makes great use of an autumnal palette right from the opening scene. Yellow, red, brown, orange... It also happens to be autumn in Anywhere, USA, so there are lots of trees with golden leaves all over the place. We don't experience that in Sydney (or points north) so it was a special treat for me, who grew up with four seasons. (Sydney doesn't have seasons, just temperatures.) By contrast, the school buildings are so dim and dismal that it's hard not to cut your wrists in sympathy. Talk about badly planned, badly designed, badly decorated.


Something that is neither badly planned, badly designed nor badly decorated is the script. With minimal dialogue, the students meander through their morning with all the passion of a clerk at the Department of Bureaucrats. Then the timeline rewinds and you get to see an overlapping event through someone else's eyes. Geek, jock, loser, princess, legend; their stories ebb and flow like the tides. The mobility of the camera (reminiscent of Tilman Büttner's work in Russian ark) really lets you get inside their lives.

The shootings are great, with no glorification of violence à la Hollywood, just a bang, a bit of blood and a body dropping to the floor. And finally, we get to see baddies who aren't evil (à la Hollywood), just hard to understand. I do have some reservations about them, however. Why are they gay? Where they just trying it out because they knew they mightn't live to see another day (à la Ali G indahouse)? Why did one of them kill the other? Is it part of the difficulty we have in understanding them or just some more weirdness from the mind of Gus van Sant?

One thing you won't get from this film is closure; the best thing about Elephant is that it doesn't try to provide answers to the question of Columbine, because there are none. That makes it worth watching all on its own.

Security censorship classification

MA 15+ (High level violence, adult themes)

Surveillance time

81 minutes (1:21 hours)

Not for public release in Australia before date

Film: 1 April 2004

Cinema surveillance images

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