Book & Movie Reivew: WATER FOR ELEPHANTS by Sara Gruen


TITLE: Water for Elephants
AUTHOR: Sara Gruen
GENRE: Literary Fiction
PUBLISHED: Algonquin Books (May 6, 2006)



RELEASED: April 22, 2011
FIND ON: Amazon

*Review Published in Connect Statesboro on May 3, 2011*

Told through a flashback by elderly Jacob Jankowski, he recounts the crazy and amazing months he spent with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. When young Jacob learns that his parents have been killed in a car crash he drops out of Cornell veterinary school jumps a train not realizing it is a circus caravan. He is hired as the on-site vet and cares for the menagerie of exotic animals, including an elephant.


There is no mistaking the quality of writing and amount of hard work and rich history that had gone into this #1 Best Selling novel. Sara Gruen portrays 1930’s circus life as gritty and spectacular at the same time. The illusion of the happy circus performance and the behind the scenes blood, sweat, and tears is contrasted deeply throughout its pages.


Jacob has a strong sense of morality and questions why things are the way they are. In the book Jacob shows strength and virtue. But in the movie, (played by Robert Patterson) he was portrayed as depthless and pouty.
Jacob falls in love with the show's star performer, Marlena. In the movie there was something lacking in the stars’ performance as lovers. There wasn’t much of a spark between Reese Witherspoon (who played Marlena) and Robert Pattison. It was like “Twilight” meets “Legally Blonde.” Their lack of connection left a hollow hole in the movie.
Played by Christof Waltz, August is the dominant husband with a severe mean streak and is the most well written character in the story. He buys an elephant that is said to be as “dumb and as a bag of hammers.” He gets over-the-top angry and beats the elephant after an accident with Marlena. The harshness of August’s character and how he takes his anger out on the elephant, as well as his wife, brought tears to my eyes.


I’d rate the book at 4 out of 5: Very Good. The storytelling is superb and the story itself is compelling and deeply moving. It’s a grand adventure that is well worth the time to read
I’d rate the movie at 3 out of 5: Good. There are aspects of the film that made it flop: the lack of spark between Witherspoon and Pattinson.
If you’ve read the book, it’s worth seeing for the visual appeal, even if the story is emotionally dumbed down to fit into the two hour time frame. I liked the movie because they omitted the right parts like the “Rated R” scenes and all the narratives from the old man. Even the climax of the movie was fuller in the movie version.
If you haven’t read the book, it may be less appealing because you don’t know the depth of Jacob that Pattinson couldn’t portray. But seeing it on the screen surpasses any book: Marlena’s horse act, the parades, and Rosie the elephant in all her glory.