;

The Circus Comes Town – A Review Of Water For Elephants

Water for Elephants poster

By Dee Marie, Contributing Writer

Although “Water for Elephants” is an historical romance set during the Great Depression, the movie begins with the main character, elderly Jacob Jankowski (Hal Holbrook), standing dazed and confused in the parking lot of a 21st century traveling circus.

Elderly Jacob Jankowski (Hal Holbrook) ©2010 20th Century Fox Film Corporation
Elderly Jacob Jankowski (Hal Holbrook) ©2010 20th Century Fox Film Corporation

Charlie (Paul Schneider), the circus manager, takes pity on the old man, offering him refuge in his office. Charlie soon discovers that Jacob, in his youth, bore witness to one of the major catastrophes of circus history.

As the old man begins his tale, the audience is transported to 1931…An overconfident, youthful Jacob (Robert Pattinson) is taking his final examine at the prestigious Cornwall University, in Ithaca, New York; assured of earning his veterinary degree.

Upon opening his examine book, the door opens to his classroom: immediately tragedy strikes. Following a string of devastating circumstances, Jacob is left monetarily and emotionally a broken man.

Benzini Brothers Circus star attraction, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon)  Image credit: David James, ©2010 20th Century Fox Film Corporation
Benzini Brothers Circus star attraction, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon) Image credit: David James, ©2010 20th Century Fox Film Corporation

With his hopes and dreams shattered, Jacob abandons his once perfect life. In the dead of night, he hops a moving train to an unknown destination. Within moments of setting off on his new adventure, Jacob becomes embroiled within the sadistic, surrealistic world of the Benzini Brothers Circus.

To pay off his debt for “riding the rails” of the circus boxcar, uninvited, Jacob is eventually hired as the Benzini Brothers Circus’ resident veterinarian…succumbing to the realization that his past will always be a part of his future.

Along his transition into manhood, Jacob becomes immersed in the pleasures and repulsion of circus life. As he plunges deeper into the immorality of his new environment, Jacob’s inner struggle between just-and-unjust causes his moral-compass to constantly wobble.

Comforting Rosie (Tai) the Elephant, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), and Jacob (Rob Pattinson)  Image credit: David James, ©2010 20th Century Fox Film Corporation
Comforting Rosie (Tai) the Elephant, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), and Jacob (Rob Pattinson) Image credit: David James, ©2010 20th Century Fox Film Corporation

His initial meeting with August (Christoph Waltz), the paranoid schizophrenic owner and ringmaster of the Benzini Brothers Circus, ends in Jacob’s first near death encounter.

However, Jacob’s attraction to August’s beautiful wife, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), and the scene stealing Rosie (Tai) the elephant, seals the young man’s fate; trapping him in a world that he detests for its cruelty, yet is bound to by unconditional love.

The lead actors in “Water for Elephants” do a remarkable job of breathing life into their characters.

Christoph Waltz, Rob Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, and Tai  Image credit: David James, ©2010 20th Century Fox Film Corporation
Christoph Waltz, Rob Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, and Tai Image credit: David James, ©2010 20th Century Fox Film Corporation

Pattinson, Witherspoon, and Waltz’s love triangle is wrought with tension. Plus, the chemistry between Pattinson and Witherspoon brought an undeniable reality to the lovers’ forbidden desire for one another.

Yet, it was the bond between man and pachyderm that stole the movie.

Both Pattinson and his elephant co-star Tai, displayed a gentle, child-like wonder to each other.

The scenes they shared sparkled with on-screen magic.

“Water for Elephants” is an adaptation of the award-winning novel by Sara Gruen.

Those who have read the novel know that the story is written for adults; filled with sexuality and brutality.

The movie removes the explicit sexual and raunchy scenes from the novel, replacing them with sensuality and implied speculation.

Jacob (Rob Pattinson) hanging out with Rosie (Tai) the Elephant  Image credit: David James, ©2010 20th Century Fox Film Corporation
Jacob (Rob Pattinson) hanging out with Rosie (Tai) the Elephant Image credit: David James, ©2010 20th Century Fox Film Corporation

Although cruelty is still woven into the storyline, most of it has been either watered-down, or hidden behind closed doors. In the novel, mental and physical cruelty (to both humans and animals) fuels and intensifies the plot; in the movie it serves to propel the love story.

Several plot twists, and minor characters were also condensed, causing the movie version of “Water for Elephants” to, at times, feel rushed.

Even so, it is evident that the changes to the novel’s plot, by screenwriter, Richard LaGravenese and director Francis Lawrence, were made with diligence and respect to the original material.

“Water for Elephants,” stays true to the fundamental elements of the novel’s storyline.

The costumes and cinematography are a feast to the eyes, and Oscar-worthy performances were given by Pattinson, Witherspoon, Waltz, and yes, even Tai the elephant.

If you have read “Water for Elephants,” you will love the movie. If you haven’t read the novel, I highly suggest that you view the movie and read the book: both are indulgent worthy. The movie is currently playing in Oswego.

5 out of 5 stars

Rated PG-13 for moments of actual and implied violence, and mild sexual content
Running Time: 122 minutes
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Directed By: Francis Lawrence
Screenplay By: Richard LaGravenes (adapted from the novel by Sara Gruen)

Jacob (Rob Pattinson) hanging out with Rosie (Tai) the Elephant  Image credit: David James, ©2010 20th Century Fox Film CorporationOswego Town resident Dee Marie is the author of the “Sons of Avalon” saga. You may visit her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Dee_Marie_SOA