Water for Elephants


Year: 2011

Country: USA 

Director: Francis Lawrence

Cast: Robert Pattinson (Jacob), Reese Witherspoon (Marlena), August (Christoph Waltz)

Genre: Drama – Romance


Whenever I read a good book and then a movie based on it is released, the same old question arises: will the movie do justice to the book? This is exactly what I wondered after reading Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen. I liked the book so much that I was afraid the film wouldn’t live up to my expectations. Once I finally watched it I was happy to see that, though not magnificent, the movie turned out to be quite a decent adaptation.

It’s the early part of the Great Depression and Jacob Jankowski only needs to take his final exam to become a vet. But just as he starts writing it, a man appears to tell him the bad news: his parents died in a car accident. He has no family left in America, and no house nor money left either, as his parents were ruined even though Jacob didn’t knew it.  So he leaves home, without a clue where to go or what to do, and just jumps onto a passing train. But not any train. It is a circus train. Jacob asks for a job and is made to take care of the animals of the circus, but when he meets the beautiful Marlena, everything changes for him. The problem is, Marlena’s a married woman. And she’s married to the circus’ owner August. And though August seems to be a charming good man on the surface, he can turn into a brutal monster in a minute, hurting not only the animals of the circus but also the people who surround him. Even the ones he loves.

Let’s start talking about the cast. Ever since Robert Pattinson turned into the teenagers’ idolized vampire Edward Cullen in Twilight, I’ve been waiting for him to play a new role that allowed him to shine. Because you know, it’s kind of hard to shine if, apart from playing such a plain character as Cullen’s, you have your face covered by some ridiculous make up (including lipstick!). I was expecting that a character like the one he had in Water for Elephants would be a great opportunity to see if there is more in him than just his ability to seduce young girls. Well, I’m not going to say he was brilliant in this movie, but at least I could see some important improvement from the Twilight saga. Maybe the guy really has potential and turns into a great actor, or maybe not, who knows? But I’ll keep wishing he chooses good parts in the future and goes on improving with every new performance. Oh, I’ve talked way to much about Pattinson. What about Reese Witherspoon? Well, I did not love her nor did I hate her. Though I’ve never been so fond of the actress, I think this indifference I felt towards her was more due to Marlena’s character than her performance. I didn’t find this character very interesting even in the book, so there wasn’t much Reese could do with it. Let’s say that all in all, the two main actors seemed just OK to me, and besides, I couldn’t see much chemistry between them. The one I thought did quite a good job was Christoph Waltz. Charming at moments, brutal and savage when he had to be so. He played a great role and did total justice to it. And wait a minute, I haven’t finished yet! I wouldn’t be able to get Tai out of the picture. Tai? Yes, the elephant that played Rosie in the movie! She amazes the audience with everything she does. And once again, I couldn’t believe how much intelligent these animals can be.

Naturally, there are some changes from the book in its film adaptation, but they didn’t seem arbitrary to me. I’ll mention a few examples. In the book, the circus’ owner is called Uncle Al, and he’s also the one who presents the shows. In the movie, Uncle Al doesn’t exist, and it is August who carries out his function (though he keeps being the same August as in the book). I think that this made everything much simpler, and though it is a shame Uncle Al’s character wasn’t in the movie, it may have been necessary due to time constraints. I loved the parts of the book that described old Jacob’s life at the nursing home, but then again, including this in the movie would have made everything too convoluted and long. I also couldn’t help notice that many sexual scenes were omitted or toned down in the film, but it is totally understandable. It may have been way too graphic to include those scenes in a movie, so I think it was better this way. However, I can’t understand why some parts of the story aren’t given much importance in the movie as they do in the book, like the part when Jacob realises why Rosie seems to be stupid and doesn’t do what she’s told. I was expecting that scene to be more jaw-dropping, but it was not. This is just a tiny detail, in fact, but I loved this part in the book, that’s why it bothered me a little.

As regards photography (a very important aspect in period movies), Water for Elephants has its ups and downs. I loved the show scenes, which looked really artistic and showed all the magic of the circus. I also liked a lot the part where the circus arrives in town and pitches the tent, showing the whole action from different points of view. Finally, I loved the fact that at the end of the movie, just before the credits, you get to see some beautiful scenes in a vintage filming style. I thought it was a lovely touch. In contrast, I found the night scenes so badly lighted that sometimes I couldn’t even see what was happening. I don’t know if there was something wrong with my screen or if it really is the film’s fault, but it was utterly annoying.

Though I really liked Water for Elephants, I wasn’t much touched by it. I got to see so little of the old Jacob, that he didn’t affect me in the way he did in the book. The relationship between him and Marlena didn’t move me either, I think in part because of the weak chemistry between the two lead actors. I’ve heard that a lot of people cried or was deeply moved when Rosie got beaten, but that didn’t happen in my case. Maybe that’s because having read the book I already knew what was going to happen. I have to admit, however, that I was on the edge of my seat during the climax of the movie, which was full of suspense and action. To sum up, Water for Elephants didn’t work for me so much as a drama, but I still think it is a beautiful movie to watch. Besides, it didn’t disappoint me as someone who has read the book and loved it. ♥

Watch the trailer ↓

– Written by GuadiRC –


7 Responses to Water for Elephants

  1. Pingback: Movies – Water for Elephants | Glutton for books, movies & series

  2. Sajib says:

    I guess now it’s time to dive into my hard drive and play Water For Elephant. 😀

  3. Ben says:

    I agree the main problem of the movie is the “weak chemistry”. Reese and Robert in the camera don’t really look like lovers but rather a mother and a son, which is really icky, considering our conservative culture.

    I’m amazed how you can openly discussed about the book. It took me time to differ my perspective from the book to the movie. I still can’t separate the bias from the book. <_<

    • fictionworms says:

      Hey Ben, you’re back! 😀
      Well yes, you know, individually Reese and Rob weren’t that bad, but together… Mmmm, doesn’t really work :/
      It wasn’t very easy for me either to separate the movie from the book. What I did here was paying attention in things like cast, photography, differences from the book and what the movie made me feel, instead of commenting on the plot itself, as I’ve already talked about that when I reviewed the book. But I think you also did that in your review, right? It also helped that I watched the movie like two months after reading the book, so I wasn’t that biased.

      • Ben says:

        I don’t know if I’m “back” since I’ll be busy this week and the week after this. It is our Finals Exam so I have to prepare for it. Oh well, wish me luck on that. XD

        I agree. Reese was fabulous on legally blonde. My theory is that Reese make up artist made her older, which is really a contrast to Rob’s hot young image.

        That’s what I did but it really took me some time to figure out what I’m going to say (Up until now, I don’t know which is better the book or the movie.)

    • fictionworms says:

      The book, no doubt! 😀 I love the parts when old Jacob is in the nursing home and unfortunately they’re not in the movie. I also love the way the authour played with the prologue, which makes you think one totally different thing from what really happens in the end. And the list goes on and on. So I would definitely choose the book :]

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