Circus act

The movie “Water for Elephants” tells the story of Jacob Jankowski after his life turns off its previous track and he joins a traveling circus.

The movie “Water for Elephants” tells the story of Jacob Jankowski after his life turns off its previous track and he joins a traveling circus. Once he’s a part of the crew, he soon learns that much of what the crowd sees when they go to the circus is an illusion. A lot of glitz and glam dazzles the spectators into giving their money and creating drama, when in fact, it’s all just a perfectly timed performance. This, as it turns out, is quite fitting because “Water for Elephants” creates the illusion of a gritty, dramatic movie, when it’s actually more akin to a fairy-tale.

Imagine a movie that’s a little like “Titanic” mixed with “Big Fish,” and you’ve basically got “Water for Elephants.” The cinematography of “Water” is both stunning and beautiful. It simultaneously captures the grandeur and awe that was depression-era circuses, along with the hard times and often-rough lifestyle which performers and workers dealt with behind the scenes. The costumes are detailed and period accurate—right down to Marlena’s bleached eyebrows. And Francis Lawrence, the film’s director, manages to capture the moments of tense drama and simple comedy that can exist in the same scene.

The actors of the film also did well. Chistoph Waltz gives an amazing performance as the dark and often scary ringleader of the circus, August. Reese Witherspoon garners sympathy as August’s wife, the circus’s show-stopping Marlena. Robert Pattinson never wavers in his portrayal of the down-but-not-out Jacob.

However, this is where I take a bit of umbrage with the writers. Marlena is tragic and beautiful, and clearly a damsel in distress. Jacob is the hero who’s going to fight to rescue her from her circus prison and take her to a better life. And August is evil, hates animals and will do anything to keep hold of the gorgeous Marlena. They’re all typical, Hollywood cookie-cutter characters. However, characters that are true-to-life, or “round,” have traits within themselves that conflict each other. The characters in “Water” are as flat as if they’d been trampled by an elephant. There’s not a single redeemable trait in August. There’s not a single unlikeable trait in either Marlena or Jacob; you practically expect to see halos floating over their heads while August sits sharpening his pitchfork. This, in turn, gives the movie a very fairy-tale-esque air. The audience automatically knows who they’re supposed to root for and who they’re supposed to hate. The viewer never gets a chance to question it or see the characters as multi-faceted people.

The other gripe I have is with the plot. In the first scenes of the movie, the audience is set up to believe that some pretty tragic events are going to unfold. However, these happenings seem tacked on at the end, and aren’t nearly as dramatic or tragic as other parts of the movie. It feels as if the writers got done and said “Oh wait, we forgot that thing we mentioned at the beginning…let’s just add it real quick here at the end, won’t take more than five minutes…”

I realize that “Water” is a book that was translated into a movie, so there are plot points which probably had to be cut in the interest of time. However, the audience shouldn’t have been set up for a spectacular climax that was actually less than thrilling. This cutting of plot from the book may also explain why the relationship between Marlena and Jacob seems to develop slowly at times, then quite suddenly toward the end.

As a whole, the movie is good entertainment. The audience leaves without lingering questions, and with a feeling that all is right in the world—though the movie does wax sentimental at the end. If you want to see a movie that’s kind of an adult fairy-tale, then by all means, go see “Water for Elephants.” It may not be the drama that the previews suggest, but it’s not without substance. ?