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Elephant (movie)

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Elephant (2003) is a film by director Gus Van Sant, a fictional account of a shooting in a U.S. high school, filmed in Portland Oregon. Van Sant was awarded Best Director and also the Palme d'Or prize at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival for this film.

The title is a tribute to the Alan Clarke, 1989 film for BBC, also called Elephant, which reflected on sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. Van Sant similarly portrays school violence as an unfathomable horror, which invites convenient explanations but ultimately frustrates analysis.

Van Sant has explained the "elephant" idea in several ways, besides the direct reference to Clarke's earlier work. It is an allusion to the proverbial "elephant in the living room", a large problem that no one talks about but everyone must find their way around as they go about their daily lives. It also invokes the Indian proverb about the blind wise men who, unable to grasp the whole, interpret the elephant only in terms of the part they can comprehend: "An elephant is a tree", said the blind man who grasped the leg; "An elephant is a snake", said the one who touched the trunk; etc. Finally, during the press conference at Cannes, Van Sant mentioned that the creative staff had also experimented with allusions to certain policies and attitudes represented by the Republican Party, whose party symbol is an elephant.

Although the film has yet to be distributed, it generated considerable controversy and divided reviews following the Cannes debut, particularly in the gay community. The two male killers kiss one another in the shower, before they commence their Columbine-like frenzy of murder. Van Sant originally intended to make a film for television, about the Columbine massacre, shortly after the event; but, the idea of a factual account was eventually dropped. The approach chosen is described by reviewers as "poetic" and "dreamlike", and by Van Sant himself as a rejection of conventional narrative, building on what he learned from work on Gerry.

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