The La Jetee to Van Sant's Twelve Monkeys. It isn't really fair to compare the commercial films to the shorts that inspired them. I love'em all equally. That being said, Alan Clarke's Elephant is so fucking simple and so fucking disturbing. It wears you out. It's even more fucked up when you learn most of the deaths are reenactments of killings during The Irish Troubles. And that it was made for tv.
With repetition, we are strangely numbed by the violent and targeted killings throughout the film. We are also treated to wonderful cinematography and a variety of locations, all set to a backdrop of zero witnesses, all but us, the viewer. The Elephant here is how unmoved we are by the end of the film, how unmoved we are by yet another killing, concentrating more on the aesthetics of the screen than the killings.
It is hard to imagine what it must have been like to watch ELEPHANT on television in Great Britain upon its release, especially for a viewer who'd not been especially primed. Part of watching this film 'now' definitely involves positing such a 'then.' It is of course something closer to conceptual art than it is to narrative cinema, and its influence on a whole generation of video artists cannot be overstated.
Television drama (if that's the right word) as its most parred-down and pure. It's not nice or easy but performs a central function of what British television could once do with relative ease and frequency: holding a subjective mirror up to itself and by just being there in the schedules. It's repetitions have a ghastly, balletic feel and the feeling of dread before the next killing is modulated with economy.
I got more cautious about the footsteps behind me after watching this film. Drab, industrial no man's land in Belfast is the scene of execution after execution. Late Clarke films had a hypnotic quality to them, sad we didn't get to see what he would have made in the 1990's and beyond
as an american born in 1992 watching this in the year 2016, i'm so far removed from the target audience that the film just makes me really uncomfortable and, admittedly, bored. i read about the film's backstory and the era surrounding it and i understand and respect its existence, but viewing it decades later, on its own, it doesn't do much for me. the final scene is the strongest, visually and otherwise.