Water for Elephants
Movie – Directed by Francis Lawrence
Movie Finished – 21st September
The plot of Water for Elephants is based around the main character Jacob at two different stages in his life. It flicks between Jacob when he is fresh out of University after his parents died and the other features him at old age when living in a rest home telling his story. Jacob decides he needs a fresh start at life and joins a circus as a veterinarian where he meets equestrian Marlena who is the wife of the cruel circus master August. When Marlena’s horse dies, it is replaced with an uncooperative elephant which Marlena and Jacob bond over training together.
One of the main themes showcased in the film is the theme of freedom and confinement. The viewer learns throughout the film that confinement can come in many ways – more than just a physical sense. In Water for Elephants, Marlena is constantly being confined and trapped by August through both physical ways and the way he persuades her with his words. He uses abuse as a mean to get people to do what he wants. We can see that they have a very toxic marriage throughout the whole film as he is constantly trying to captivate her when she wants to leave. August attempts to use his trapping ways on both sides – restricting both Marlena and Jacob. Jacob is constantly being taunted by Earl and Blackie – Augusts ‘assistants’ whenever he does something out of August’s accord. “Let me go,” I plead, jerking my head around first to Grady and then to Bill. “For Christ’s sake, let me go! He’s nuts! He’ll kill her!” I struggle hard enough that I manage to pull them forward a few feet. From inside the tent, I hear the crash of broken dishes and then Marlena screams.” This teaches the reader a lesson about intervening at the wrong times and with the wrong people – as passionate as Jacob may have been about it.
Even when Jacob is older and recalling his experience with the circus we can see the way that is physical confinement has gotten to his personality. “I give up on rage, which at this point has become a formality, and make a mental note to get angry again in the morning. Then I let myself drift because there’s really no fighting it.” This quote illustrates to the reader how imprisoned he has become in his broken down body. He is a prisoner to the doctors and the nurses and the drugs they have forced on him in the rest home, he tells the reader how he has given in to his confinement.
Another form of confinement is shown through animals. When Rosie the elephant is brought to the circus, she is constantly being stabbed and abused by August. He believes that this is the only way he can get the animals to do what he wants when he wants. After Rosie ran away from only top give up her freedom and return again. August uses this to his advantage and lets off some steam by hurting the animal and ‘teaching her a lesson’. Jacob believes in Rosie and how good it was of her to return on her own means – showing her loyalty to the circus. “But August! Wait! She was good! She came back of her own accord.”
This theme of freedom and confinement, shown through August’s abuse to Marlena, Jacob and Rosie and then Jacobs own physical restriction in his later life are all relevant to society today: through topics such as elder abuse and domestic violence. It teaches the viewer that sometimes choosing your freedom even though it may be dangerous for the short term can sometimes be a safer choice than having a ‘safe’ area of confinement – like when Marlena chose Jacob over August at the end of the film after they got in a very physical fight. Rosie also proved to August just how dangerous confinement can be to a person or an animal when she gets the stake she was tied to, breaks free and attacks August before he chokes Marlena. This proving to the viewer that both freedom and confinement can come with their advantages and disadvantages depending on the situation at hand.
I would recommend this movie to high school students as it shows this important theme and many others in a way different to what we would see in movies set in the 2000’s. It approaches the idea of freedom and confinement in more than just one way so the viewer frequently witnessed this. The movie shows very detailed and upfront content so I would not recommend this to anyone younger.