October 3rd, 2003


more trailers Elephant

Still of Alex Frost in ElephantStill of John Robinson in ElephantAlex Frost at event of ElephantElephantGus Van Sant and Alex Frost in ElephantNathan Tyson at event of Elephant

Several ordinary high school students go through their daily routine as two others prepare for something more malevolent.

Release Year: 2003

Rating: 7.2/10 (43,964 voted)

Critic's Score: 70/100

Director: Gus Van Sant

Stars: Elias McConnell, Alex Frost, Eric Deulen

A day in the lives of a group of average teenage high school students. The film follows every character and shows their daily routines. However two of the students plan to do something that the student body won't forget.

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
Ellis Williams - GSA Teacher (as Ellis E. Williams)

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


Official Website: Fine Line Features [United States] | Official site [France] |

Release Date: 3 October 2003

Filming Locations: John Adams High School, 5135 NE Columbia Boulevard, Portland, Oregon, USA

Box Office Details

Budget: $3,000,000(estimated)

Opening Weekend: $93,356 (USA) (26 October 2003) (6 Screens)

Gross: $10,020,543 (Worldwide) (8 January 2004)

Technical Specs


Did You Know?

Gus Van Sant borrowed the title from Alan Clarke's film of the same name, and thought that it referred to the Chinese proverb about five blind men who were each led to a different part of an elephant. Each man thinks that it is a different thing. What Clarke's title actually referred to was the idea of the "elephant in the room", where something is so obvious that to miss it would be the equivalent of not seeing a huge elephant in an ordinary room, yet is still not recognized out of either stupidity or willful ignorance. In this film, the "elephant in the room" is the homicidal rage of Alex and Eric, which leaves them free to precipitate the last-scene massacre at their school.

Continuity: When John runs from the school (past the dog) check out the concrete pathways. The first time they are pretty much dry. The second time it looks like it has just been raining - they are very wet.

[first lines]
Mr. McFarland: What? Hey! Where are you going? Come here.
John McFarland: Oh, my God, Dad.
Mr. McFarland: Get in the car. You're gonna be late for school. Come on.
John McFarland: Mom's gonna kill you.

User Review

A film that will haunt you


'Elephant' is Gus Van Sant's brilliant and mind-blowing distillation of teenage alienation and angst. Set on one of those sterile suburban high school campuses, the film recounts a typical day in the life of a school - typical that is until it ends in a Columbine-type massacre.

Here is a film in which style does indeed become substance, where the 'meaning' lies in the form and shape of the film itself. Rather than tell us a conventional 'story,' Van Sant has chosen to give his film the look and feel of a pseudo-documentary, merely recording the events and conversations that occur that day, a day we are led to believe is not unlike every other at that school. Van Sant's prying camera eye turns us into voyeurs, as we observe the cliquishness, petty humiliations, and sheer overwhelming banality that have defined high school life for so many of us. Van Sant uses space brilliantly. Despite the fact that this is undoubtedly a school with a large student population, the characters on whom he focuses seem always to be somehow isolated from almost everyone else around them. None of the characters we see really seem to have any connection with one another, and even when they do, it tends to be of only the most superficial kind. They are like people stranded on their own individual islands, enduring their suffering alone and in silence. Van Sant sets the tone with his tracking shots of characters strolling down seemingly endless corridors heading to nowhere in particular, making little or no human contact as they go. The camera, throughout the film, seems to have a mind of its own, often avoiding what seems to be a major plot point and, instead, zeroing in on something that seems to have little or no real importance. Then through the process of editing, he weaves nothing less than a tapestry of alienation. By concentrating so intently on the seemingly irrelevant minutia of daily life, Van Sant brings to the film a sense of documentary immediacy most fiction films lack. We are made privy to bits and pieces of conversation only to have the talk dribble off as we or the characters turn the corner and move on to the next group of people. It is the deadening 'sameness,' the insignificance of so much of what we see and hear that makes this such a sad and haunting experience.

One thing Van Sant refuses to do is try to 'explain' why the killers act as they do. He's smart enough to know that there is no single explanation for such behavior, that it arises from a variety of sources and that it is primarily the product of a general feeling of alienation in modern society. We see one of the murderers suffering humiliation at the hands of two schoolmates, the second killer playing a violent video game and perusing a gun magazine, but these, in and of themselves, cannot be the sole explanations. At best they are symptoms of a much deeper societal sickness, one that Van Sant can only hint at but never fully grasp - for who among us can claim to truly understand it? What 'Elephant' does is to make us focus on and actually see this spirit-crushing ennui which permeates our culture and which defines life for so many of our youngsters.

The director has drawn fine work from his cast of talented unknowns. Their every word, their every gesture rings believable and true. He has also employed Beethoven's 'Fur Elise' to serve as a haunting refrain throughout the film, capturing the poignancy of a world in which beauty, spontaneity and joy seem to have been removed.

There are some who will find 'Elephant' to be slow-moving, empty, arty and pretentious. For them there are plenty of mindlessly upbeat depictions of high school life to watch. But for those who can appreciate a film artist working at the peak of his form, 'Elephant' is a mesmerizing, vision-altering experience that pushes the boundaries of the medium and takes us to a place, emotionally, that we haven't ever been before.