'Elephants' balances between anger and control

water for elephants posterBy Whitney Kiepura

Staff Writer

There is a joke among circus people. The best job in a circus is to carry water for the elephants. Anyone who has truly worked under a big top, or seen the movie Water for Elephants, knows the punch line. It’s the best job, because it doesn’t exist. An elephant would drink all the water as quickly as the man could draw it from a pump or hose.

But such an impossible task does not deter Jacob Jankowski, the hero of the movie and book. Throughout both versions, his stubbornness carries him through a menagerie of obstacles. From the comfort of a cushy theatre chair, the audience recognizes more than just a big top, but instead a youthful look into the horrors of humanity.

Water for Elephants tells the story of Jacob, a Cornell drop out who joins a traveling circus and becomes the vet and the trainer of the circus’s newly acquired elephant, Rosie.

The story is told in a series of flashbacks, when Jacob, age 90 looks back on his youth. While the book keeps returning to the ancient Jacob, the movie focuses only on the story of his adolescence. The movie also loses the character development that makes each roadie pop off the page.  Although the movie makes up for this fact with visuals, other side plots, emphasized in the book are lost.

For instance, Camel’s, yes that is a person, not a beast,   health suddenly declines in the movie, the audience does not know why. However, in the book he is always described as holding a bottle of some type of illegal alcohol.

But this movie leaves a larger lasting mark than many romantic movies do. The villain, the ringmaster August, is shockingly similar to Harvey Dent from The Dark Knight. Unable to control his anger, he lashes out at whoever is closest. Sometimes that his wife, Marlena, sometimes it’s the elephant Rosie, sometimes the anger is bottled up.

How he treats the people around him is just even more confusing when he confesses to Jacob that he knows that he was wrong and he’s afraid of the consequences. Everyone wants to be furious and throw his own destruction back in his face, but like Belle touching the rose, his shame in his actions paralyze those who wish to harm him.

And that balance, between anger and control is what keeps the organic truth of the movie off the pile of chick flicks and into the stack of compelling stories. Whether this story is told with flickering pictures or black and white words, it is not one to be missed.