For the record, my comment may biased as I have not read the movie-adapted novel by Sara Gruen.
When I first heard of the title, Water of Elephants, I have the symbolic idea of thirst so along the way, I tried to filter the message with the symbolism. I could see thirst of survival and compassion surfaced most of all both by fellow humans during the depression and the animals.
During the depression, many people are left without jobs and the Benzini Brother’s owner August sadistically removed men whenever situation needed. But lucky veterinary Jacob has become a irresistible vital asset for August to take care of the animals especially Rosie, the elephant.
I have not seen a circus movie before, and i am just amazed how well the animal could act in the movie. It must be difficult though not innovating as many circus related movies have been made.
It makes me wonder why, the title has Elephants instead of Elephant because I could neither see other than Rosie? Now, we need to look back in the original book because it is said in wikipedia that
In the beginning of the novel, Jacob mocks another resident of the nursing home who claims to have worked in the circus and carried water for the elephants. We are led to believe that this is a popular, but untrue, claim.
This important part of the story is left out in the movie making the audience who has not read the book clueless. And I have to agree with Stephen Holden’s review from the New York Times that the film is heavy on the love triangle between August-Marlena-Jacob instead of the heavy themes of animal rights and humans trials during the depression in the novel.
After watching the movie, I felt good for Jacob and Marlena but I could not really put empathy towards the animals. What I understand is that, circus is just another business, profit making is the utmost priority and emotions must not get into the way. True but not true. If you don’t appreciate your workers, they would go against you one day just like it did in the movie. Sadistic August went down by his own workers and the highest revenue, the elephant Rosie.
But Andy’s Film Blog has a saying on his own, he thought the reviews are unfair as the movie itself needs a justification on its own. He said,
When I saw the previews for Water for Elephants, the adaptation of Sara Gruen’s beloved bestseller, I was rife with anticipation for what seemed to be a stunning motion picture. Then the reviews came in and claims of “not being as good as the book” and “one ring short of a three ring spectacle” more than soured my outlook. In actuality, Water for Elephants is an unabashedly old-fashioned movie, epic in scope, that hearkens back to the days of the lush Technicolor films of the 50s and 60s. It is a glorious spectacle of a film, even if it is imperfect.
And he further commented that both the main actor and actress are never meant to be lovers
The love story seemed a little lacking. Pattinson isn’t bad but he’s a pretty boring actor and Witherspoon, whom I admire, is miscast playing her character in an unattractive way that makes you question Pattinson’s feelings for her.
………..of which I do agree although the film is heavy on their affair but honestly, the affair is not what I am meaning to see so the film has become to me, a fascinating interaction with animals instead of the love story.
Cruelty towards animal is largely portrayed by August during one he teaches Jacob to control Rosie and one when he is frustrated with Rosie’s persistent disobedience. But is it him just? I don’t think that the circus owner are the only desperate people to force the animals to perform.
While characters of Jacob and Melena showed compassion and emphasize the importance to get in connection with the animals before getting them into performing which values largely responsible for both to fell for each other. And not forgetting Camel who brilliantly persuaded Rosie to come home with wiski, yes, wiski!
What makes me laughed is that, although the water symbolizes purification makes it ridiculous as the fact is the elephant Rosie is being fed with alcoholic drinks! And she wanted it herself! That is one clever elephant that she could free herself to get a dip.
The hard life of the depression is alighted through Melena’s past history and Jacob’s observation the closing circus which led many men without money for long time.
The author, Sara Gruen, is inspired to create the main character, Jacob from a biblical story in the Book of Genesis. Source here says that before Jacob get into the train, he submerged his tiring foot after a long walk from home into the frigid water and it hurts painfully but he persisted eventually longer until his cold feet feels equally comfort with the low temperature as though he is purified.
Perhaps, the director is desperate to squeeze everything in an estimated 2 hours movie but the bonding between human and animals are not enough to be felt. Sara Gruen may be as well, disappointed. But Christoph Waltz is magnificent as the circus owner August as the Col Hans Landa of Inglourious Basterds is never a disappointment as the villain.