Elephant is a 1989 British drama film directed by Alan Clarke. The film is set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. The film's title comes from Bernard MacLaverty's description of the Troubles as "the elephant in our living room" — a reference to the collective denial of the underlying social problems of Northern Ireland. MacLaverty is a Northern Irish author and wrote the screenplay for "Elephant". Produced by BBC Northern Ireland, it first screened on BBC2 in 1989. The film was first conceived by Danny Boyle, who was working as a producer for BBC Northern Ireland at the time.
The film, which contains very little dialogue, depicts eighteen murders and is partly based on actual events drawn from police reports at the time. It is shot with 16mm film with much of it filmed using a steadicam and features a series of tracking shots, a technique the director used regularly. The grainy 16mm film, together with the lack of dialogue, plot, narrative and music give the film a cold, observational documentary feel. Nothing is learnt about any of the gunmen or victims. Each of the murders are carried out calmly and casually, in one scene the gunman is seen to drive away slowly, even stopping to give way for traffic. The victims are shown for several seconds in a static shot of the body.
As with several of Clarke's films, "Elephant" received high praise and attracted controversy. After watching the film, Clarke's contemporary David Leland wrote
I remember lying in bed, watching it, thinking, "Stop, Alan, you can't keep doing this." And the cumulative effect is that you say, "It's got to stop. The killing has got to stop." Instinctively, without an intellectual process, it becomes a gut reaction.
The film is a clear influence on Gus Van Sant's 2003 film Elephant, based on the Columbine High School Massacre. Van Sant's film borrowed not only Clarke's title, but also closely mirrors his minimalist style.