Monday, June 6, 2011

Water for Elephants: Refreshing for the Eyes, but Not the Soul

Film Grade: C+

Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon
Rare are the movies that are a piece of art in every aspect. To have a true sense of art value to it, the film must be sculpted in its design, its costumes, its look, its feel, its depth, its story, and the portrayal of that story in its acting. There must be an attainable sense of reality for the viewers to relate to, even if the story or characters themselves aren't really relatable.

 Water for Elephants is one of those rare movies that are artistically stunning, from the cinematography to the acting. Set in the 1930's, the story, which is based on the book of the same title, follows a twenty-something Jacob Jankowski who recently  learned of his parents' death. Having not even a penny to his name, he drops out of college in search of work. On a whim, he hops a train, which happens to belong to "Benzini Brothers Circus". 

After meeting the ill-tempered ringmaster, August Rosenbluth, Jacob is taken under his wing and offered a job as the circus's vet. He and August's wife, Marlena, also become the trainer for the new act: an elephant named Rosie. Jacob cares deeply not only for the animals, but for Marlena as well, in stark contrast to her nearly abusive husband. 

The story of Water for Elephants is beautiful, celebrating humanity and life. There is a deep contrast in the harshness and sensitivity of the setting and characters. On one hand, there is the struggle of the 1930's, where men try to retain a sense of humanity in the selfish struggle many people dealt with in the search of work; add to this August's abuse to his workers and animals. Then you have Jacob, Marlena and the circus workers who toil together, care deeply for each other, and are sensitive to the needs of the beings that surround them. The 1930's was a trying time. But there was still heart, as evident in these characters.

The acting in the film is close to phenomenal. Reese Witherspoon makes a breathtaking Marlena, and Christoph Walz's portrayal of August Rosenbluth is nightmarish and frightening; you never know how strong his reactions will be. I was very surprised with Robert Pattinson's acting; Twilight doesn't showcase the versatility he possesses. He brought a sensitivity and gentleness to his part that is rare.

While the film is well-acted and well-made, the moral compass doesn't  point due north. Jacob falls in love with a married woman, who, rather than putting an end to their meetings, encourages them. The unbreakable bond of marriage is obviously not valued in this story, and the man who tries to keep it so (August, her husband), is evil, so his efforts are unvalidated. 

Artistically: the movie is great.

Morally: not so much.


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