Death in the streets, homes, parks and factories of Belfast. Alan Clarke’s drama – without character or narrative and shot in documentary style – is a shockingly frank depiction of the futility of sectarian murder.
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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.
What could have become a redundant exercise remains surprisingly compelling throughout the brief 40 minutes. When a scene changes, we know the inevitable outcome, but no two are the same and the way Clarke stages each one helps keep it interesting. The lack of dialogue heightens the tension as well as us basically "following" or "tracking" the incoming death at a mere 4 to 5 foot distance from the camera.
Ballsy cinema. I liked it more than Hunger, to be honest. Film doesn't need dialog, plot or conventional narrative to be impactful, it just needs to lay bare a human truth. In this case--The Troubles stripped bare of political/emotional bias, just the simple fact of the killings as they happen.