For a better experience on MUBI, update your browser.
11,457 Ratings


Directed by Gus Van Sant
United States, 2003
Drama, Cult


Students at a suburban high school drift through a seemingly uneventful day, until two arrive with sinister intentions. A semi-improvised exploration of how violence makes its way into a typical American high school that won the Best Director and the Palme d’Or at 2003 Cannes Film Festival.

Our take

Gus van Sant took home both the Palme d’Or and Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival for this fictionalized account of the 1999 Columbine massacre. An eerily powerful yet stripped back drama of a day-in-the-life, with mesmerizing camerawork from the great cinematographer Harris Savides.

Elephant Directed by Gus Van Sant

Critics reviews

Cast with unknown and nonprofessional teenage actors and produced for HBO, Elephant used the same kind of roving, real-time long takes as Gerry to generate suspense and dread instead of mystery, transforming the hallways of a suburban high school into the corridors of the Overlook Hotel.
July 13, 2018
Read full article
In the case of Elephant, it’s remarkable how much the old arguments that came up at the time still apply. If anything, the film looks worse now than it did in 2003, because so many allusions to the killers’ profile—as victims of bullying, as consumers of Nazi propaganda and violent video games, as homosexuals—are not borne out by the facts. Then again, the savvy brilliance of Elephant is that you can’t pin it down to anything so specific to Columbine, because it’s not tied directly to it.
May 03, 2016
Read full article
With Elephant, it’s a pleasure to welcome Gus Van Sant back to the land of the living. His film certainly has its flaws, yet its virtues so outshine them that his past few years in the wilderness can now be forgiven and mainly forgotten… at least two of the major influences on Elephant are plainly visible: Bela Tarr’s Satantango (primary) and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (secondary).
January 01, 2004
Read full article

What are people saying?

  • Kyle's rating of the film Elephant

    Probably the closest anyone will ever get to making sense of Columbine, simply because it doesn't try to make sense of it. To call it irresponsible is to be blind not only to that, but to the meaning of the real-life shootings and their aftermath. The lack of real actors can be distracting, but it's better than the alternative. This is the only high school I've ever seen on film that felt real.

  • Ghostman's rating of the film Elephant

    A great, Great film. Very sobering. The film exacted such a wide range of emotions from me; it's so tranquil and solemn but also very brutal and painful. The ending is one of the most unnerving sequences ever put to film.

  • Subterranean Cinema's rating of the film Elephant

    If Kubrick had lived another decade and done a film based upon a Columbine type school shooting incident, it would have been very similar in style and content to Elephant. An excellent film that is very close to being a masterpiece, albeit flawed by Van Sant's rather fumbling and unnecessary tacking on of homosexuality into the storyline (as he does with most of his films). 4.5 stars.

  • Lights in the Dusk's rating of the film Elephant

    Outing the killers as gay or bi-curious seems an odd flex from Van Sant. Partly as it paints them as "others" - & as such separate from their peers - &partly because it seems to support the homophobic bullying that was a large motivator in the actual massacre. It's a black mark against a film that is otherwise entirely sensitive & respectful; presenting violence as something that occurs out of the ordinary & mundane.

  • Stefan Drees's rating of the film Elephant

    An important an unsettling film. The cinematography with its long, uncut an almost peaceful shots following the protagonists (and overlapping each other at different points) helps to learn something about the main characters but also to establish a knowledge about the nature of the architectural space which later is visually cut into fragments during the murders. Also incredible is the work with sound.

  • smndvdcl's rating of the film Elephant

    That steadicam, those long shots, the unexplained violence, the long silences, the haunting, escalating exposition, allusions to video games. What a nuanced adaptation of British auteur Alan Clarke's 'Elephant'. Van Sant's skill to appease HBO in adapting and still find a way to parallel and comment on the Columbine tragedy shows a gift, not just in his visionary filmmaking but his savvy with the industry in general.

  • Lucas Granero's rating of the film Elephant

    Van Sant no juzga ni victimiza y en esa decisión encuentra un modo posible de mostrar lo impensado. La violencia circula por los pasillos al igual que el resto de las acciones cotidianas del colegio y ese gesto amplifica el problema sin subrayarlo: ¿es que nadie notaba que ésto iba a suceder? La inteligente austeridad de la pelicula es tal que que ni siquiera parece preguntarse nada, aunque nos deja llenos de dudas.

  • Zachary T.'s rating of the film Elephant

    Aesthetically, it's impressive. But this is a film that should be about people; it intends to be about real people, but what it gives us instead are hollow, cold, insulting clichés. The jock? The popular girl? The nerdy loser? I would expect a little more thought from anyone making a film about Columbine. I'm beginning to think it is impossible for anyone to commit a realistic view of highschool to celluloid.

Related films