[Gus Van Sant] seems to believe there are no reasons for Columbine and no remedies to prevent senseless violence from happening again. Many viewers will leave this film as unsatisfied and angry as Variety’s Todd McCarthy, who wrote after it won the Golden Palm at Cannes 2003 that it was “pointless at best and irresponsible at worst.” I think its responsibility comes precisely in its refusal to provide a point. [...]
Van Sant’s “Elephant” is a violent movie in the sense that many innocent people are shot dead. But it isn’t violent in the way it presents those deaths. There is no pumped-up style, no lingering, no release, no climax. Just implacable, poker-faced, flat, uninflected death. Truffaut said it was hard to make an anti-war film because war was exciting even if you were against it. Van Sant has made an anti-violence film by draining violence of energy, purpose, glamor, reward and social context. It just happens. I doubt that “Elephant” will ever inspire anyone to copy what they see on the screen. Much more than the insipid message movies shown in social studies classes, it might inspire useful discussion and soul-searching among high school students.
– Roger Ebert om Elephant.