I don't know if Gus Van Sant has admitted it but it seems clear that this movie has been inspired by the shooting in Columbine High School.

Is there a link between this event and an elephant?

Why is the movie Elephant (2003) called that?

  • 4
    I removed the down vote as this is a pretty interesting question - however, as it is pointed out, your answer was indeed available in the link you supplied, so a little more digging wouldn't have hurt.
    – Nobby
    Commented Aug 11, 2012 at 13:22

3 Answers 3


From the IMDb link in the question:

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.

  • Clark's movie is also included on some DVD releases of Van Sant's Elephant.
    – BCdotWEB
    Commented Oct 6, 2014 at 9:33

I always thought it was because of the treatment of elephants in the circus. Time and time again these elephants are abused, beaten, and whipped, which creates an inevitable breaking point and they end up stampeding over everyone. Much in the same way, these pariahs who have been bullied far too long finally explode...

  • 1
    That is a different take from what I've always considered the title to be from. +1
    – Tablemaker
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 13:24
  • Yes, +1 for thoughtful personal interpretation.
    – Joachim
    Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 13:58

It's an homage to this film: http://www.screenonline.org.uk/tv/id/439410/ Elephant is without question Alan Clarke's bleakest film. Essentially a compilation of eighteen murders on the streets of Belfast, without explanatory narrative or characterisation and shot in a cold, dispassionate documentary style, the film succinctly captures the horror of sectarian killing.

The lack of narrative removes any scope for justification of the killings on religious, political or any other grounds and the matter-of-factness of Clarke's approach debases the often-heroic portrayal - by all sides - of the individuals involved in sectarian murder. Moreover, Clarke's use of a Steadicam to follow the killers before and during the murders casts the viewer as at best a willing voyeur, at worst an accomplice. After each killing, the camera dwells on the bodies slumped on floors or draped over desks for longer than is comfortable, forcing the viewer to confront the brutality of their deaths.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .