My second book towards my 60 books in 2012 goal was Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. I’ve had this book on my Kindle since October, and decided to read it while I wait for my books from the library to become available.
I heard good things about this book, and it didn’t disappoint. Water for Elephants tells the story of a man, Jacob Jankowski, who runs away and joins the circus after suffering a horrible tragedy. This is a love story. Love for a woman, an animal, and the circus.
Sara Gruen paints a beautiful picture of the seemingly glamorous lives of circus performers, and the actual hardships they faced during the Great Depression. The story is told with a realism that is lacking in a lot of novels lately, as Jacob learns some disappointing truths about life, the power of love, and the price of freedom.
I refused to watch the film, until I read the book. As a rule, I prefer to read the novel beforehand so I can paint my own pictures of who the characters are, and not the actors portraying them. Having finished the book last night I finally got the opportunity to watch the film this morning.
The film was very much like the novel in the over all story, but like many book-to-film adaptations there were many noticeable changes. Some of them I understood. Like the combination of Uncle Al and August Rosenbluth into one character for the film. Christoph Waltz did a remarkable job playing the owner of the circus, and equestrian master. His portrayal of someone suffering from mental illness was not over the top, and highly realistic. Other changes in the film I didn’t understand.
In the books, the love story is developed at a slower pace which made it seem more believable to me. In the film, however, the love story was sped up to a degree that almost seemed disjointed with the pace of the rest of the film. I understand that the film can only be just so long, but I felt like they were trying to make sure the romance got into the film as an after though. I don’t want to ruin the book or film, but I felt that Jacob (Robert Pattinson) was more in love with Rosie the Elephant than Marlena (Reese Witherspoon).
Don’t get me wrong. I did enjoy the film. I guess this is one of the pitfalls of watching a film after you have read the novel. Your memory is too good, and all the changes are too noticeable. My only other criticism about the film is that it deleted the scene in which you learn the significance of the title.
Only watching the film, a viewer is left believing that Water for Elephants is about Jacob taking care of Rosie the Elephant, or August’s snide comment to Jacob upon meeting him that he could hire him to fetch water for the elephants. In the novel, the importance of the phrase was that a man Jacob didn’t get on with at the retirement home claimed to have fetched water for elephants when he was a young man working for the circus. Jacob called him a liar, and as the story unfolds the viewer learns that an elephants favorite drink is bourbon, not water.
Later, we are left feeling sorry for the older gentleman who Jacob called a liar. Old age will (hopefully) get us all, and sometimes with that comes memory loss, and confusion. One of my favorite characters from the book, Rosemary, was cut from the film since we never saw Jacob at the retirement home. In the novel, Rosemary gave him a great piece of advice:
“Sometimes when you get older — and I’m not talking about you, I’m talking generally, because everyone ages differently — things you think on and wish on start to seem real. And then you believe them, and before you know it they’re part of your history, and if someone challenges you on them and says they’re not true — why, then you get offended because you can’t remember the first part. All you know is that you’ve been called a liar.”
― Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants
Overall, I enjoyed reading both the book and seeing the film. As a child I loved the circus, and both gave the pleasant memories back to me. My next book for 2012 will be The Exorcist. I first saw the film when I was a child one Halloween with my mom while we roasted pumpkin seeds, and ate candy. To this day I consider this film one of the scariest I have ever seen, and it’s one of the horror films I have compared every other to since. Will the novel live up to my expectations, or exceed them? I guess you’ll find out next time!