A strange but beautiful combination of animals, romance, and historical fiction, Water For Elephants tells the story of a man who starts off as a Cornell University veterinary student and ends as a tired, old, former circus member. When 90-something Jacob Jankowski hears the circus is in town, it brings him back to his younger years, when he traveled the country working for the circus.
It’s where he regained control of his life after his parents died. It’s where he fell in love with an elephant named Rosie, who went on to become a his personal pet. And it’s also where he met the love of life, Marlena. Jacob relives these memories by telling his story to a current employee of the circus.
The movie Water For Elephants stays close to Sara Gruen’s beloved book — particularly with the 1930’s circus memories section. The only place the movie veers from the original is in its details of the older, current Jacob. In the book, Jacob’s narration takes place in his own mind. For the majority of the book, he is in a nursing home, conversing with his nurse and fellow elderly friends. When he learns that the circus is in town, just a few blocks from the nursing home, he gets frustrated that he’s stuck in a home and begins to reflect on his time in the circus. In the book, Jacob doesn’t go to the circus until the very end. That’s when he befriends the circus worker. But the movie starts with Jacob going to the circus. He begins to tell his story to the circus worker, and that’s where we delve into his former life.
Yes, the movie made a pretty big change in terms of narration and the overall story. But in Water for Elephants, the story within the story is the best part, and the movie portrayed that story quite well.
Reese Witherspoon is dazzling as Marlena, though — dare I say it? — she may have been a bit old for the part. (In the book, Marlena is 21. Reese Witherspoon turns 36 this year.) Christoph Waltz is cruelly evil as Marlena’s husband, August. And even Rob Pattinson is a surprisingly good and believable Jacob.
What I didn’t believe was the onscreen chemistry between the two of them. One could make the argument that anytime you put two attractive people together, they’re going to have chemistry. But I was hoping for the “Rachel McAdams-Ryan Gosling-The Notebook” kind of chemistry, and I didn’t get that here.
Overall, if you loved the book, you will love the movie. It mostly stays true to the story, and the set and costumes gel perfectly. Visually, the movie is just what you picture when reading the book, and that makes it magical.
Get Water for Elephants for $10.