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Elephant (1989)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Elephant (1989)
DirectorAlan Clarke
Production CompanyBBC TV Northern Ireland
ProducerDanny Boyle
PhotographyPhilip Dawson
 John Ward

Cast: Gary Walker; Bill Hamilton; Michael Foyle; Danny Small; Robert Taylor; Joe Cauley; Joe McGee; Patrick Condren

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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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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.

Filmed on location in Belfast and produced by future director Danny Boyle, Elephant was one of only two of the more than fifty dramas that Clarke directed which he is also credited with writing. The title comes from a quote by Irish writer Bernard MacLaverty who described the Troubles as like having an elephant in your living room, getting in the way of everything - but after a while you learn to live with it.

Justin Hobday

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Video Clips
1. Opening murders (3:38)
2. On the path (1:29)
3. Playing football (3:10)
4. Conclusion (3:32)
Contact (1985)
Boyle, Danny (1956-)
Clarke, Alan (1935-1990)
Alan Clarke and Northern Ireland