Thursday, December 8, 2011

Water for Elephants on DVD

If you haven't read the book Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen (which I have not), then all you might know about the movie adaptation is that it stars Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson (the heartthrob of the Twilight vampire movies). That's all I knew, at any rate. Also, the book had been recommended to me, but lacking time to read, I opted for the visual medium instead.

Visually, Water for Elephants is a delight. It's a period piece, so the costumes and sets and 1930's Depression atmosphere combine to transport you to not only a different era but a different world of sorts. The circus is its own world with its own rules and government. So discovers Jacob, who loses his Polish parents and future veterinary career in one day. With nowhere else to go, he hops a train, not realizing it's a traveling circus. There, he finds work, friends, and even love. But his salvation could easily be his undoing as Marlena, the woman he falls in love with, is the wife of August, the circus manager, a man used to getting his way by force and brutality. When an elephant becomes the circus's new star attraction, Jacob is thrust into the middle of a dangerous game as he attempts to train the elephant for Marlena and protect both Marlena and the elephant from August's temper.

The movie is brilliantly acted with Robert Pattinson as Jacob, Reese Witherspoon as Marlena, and Christoph Waltz as August. Witherspoon is always fabulous, and Pattinson proves he has more than vampires to offer. The minor characters are all loveable as well, providing a fully entertaining movie in both the major plot and subplots.

I can't compare the movie to the book, not having read it, but I occasionally like to see a movie adaptation without the benefit of already knowing the story to see how it holds up by itself. I think Water for Elephants as a movie does a pretty good job of standing on its own feet. I thought it moved a little fast, perhaps. I'm sure the events of the story take place over a longer period of time in the book, but you have to compress time or at least make it feel like a lot of time is passing quickly when you make a movie. It's not that the movie is rushed. I was just caught off guard by how quickly Jacob made it into the circus and then how quickly things started to come crashing down. But, otherwise, the portrayal of events moved at a good pace.

Now, to the moral aspects of the story, and there, I do not have such glowing opinions. In fact, I cannot decide if I actually like the movie, and there are two reasons why. One, from the very first, I wasn't sure I liked Jacob. The movie starts with him as an old man telling his story, and almost the first thing you find out about him is that he's all alone in a nursing home because his five kids won't take care of him. So, my immediate thought was, what kind of man raises five kids who can't take care of him when he's old? I didn't like what that implied. Second, the whole romance and plot of the movie revolves around a man having an affair with another man's wife. I can't condone that at all. It bothered me, even though August was a brute of a man who didn't deserve Marlena. Still, adultery never flies in my book.

The movie ended well and was not as sad as I kept expecting. Actually, it was a great happy ending, but for me, it was tainted by the moral dilemmas of the story.

The movie is rated PG-13 and contains a sex scene and some violence, part of which is done to animals. I was warned about the animal cruelty and so expected it to be worse than it was. But it's bad enough. I appreciated the movie's subtle message that cruelty toward animals is no worse than cruelty toward men. In our society, it often seems like animals get preferential treatment. Such would certainly not have been the case in 1930's America.

Overall, my opinion is that this is a great period piece, but though I usually love romance, this romance, however realistic is might have been, just didn't sit right with me. I think I would average out the rating to three stars.

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