Water for Elephants (2011) Review...

Today I stumbled upon these great stills from the film Water for Elephants and just had to share them.

The story is told as a series of memories by Jacob Jankowski, a "ninety or ninety-three year-old" man who lives in a nursing home. Jacob is told what to eat and what to do.

As the memories begin, Jacob Jankowski is twenty-three years old and preparing for his final exams as a Cornell University veterinary student when he receives the news that his parents were killed in a car accident. Jacob’s father was a veterinarian and Jacob had planned to join his practice. When Jacob learns that his father was deeply in debt because he had been treating animals for free as well as mortgaging the family home to provide Jacob an Ivy League education, he has a breakdown and leaves school just short of graduation. In the dark of night, he jumps on a train only to learn it is a circus train. When the owner of the circus, Uncle Al, learns of his training as a vet, he is hired to care for the circus animals. This consequently leads Jacob to share quarters with a dwarf named Walter (who is known as Kinko to the circus) and his dog Queenie. A few weeks later Jacob is summoned to take a look at Camel, an old man who, after drinking Jamaican ginger extract for many years, can't move his arms or legs. Fearing Camel will be "red lighted" (referring to the practice of throwing circus workers off a moving train as either punishment or as severance from the circus to avoid paying wages,[3] he hides him in his room.

The head trainer, August, is a brutal man who abuses the animals in his care (such as the new elephant Rosie) as well as the people around him. Alternately, he can be utterly charming. Jacob develops a guarded relationship with August and his wife, Marlena, with whom Jacob falls in love. August is suspicious of their relationship and beats Marlena and Jacob. Marlena subsequently leaves August and stays at a hotel while she's not performing. Uncle Al then informs Jacob that August is a paranoid schizophrenic and then gives him a threat: reunite August and Marlena as a happily married couple or Walter and Camel get red lighted.

A few days later after discovering that August has tried to see Marlena, Jacob visits her in her hotel room. Soon after comforting her however, Jacob and Marlena sleep together and then eventually declare their love for each other. Marlena soon returns to the circus to perform (and also to have secret meetings with Jacob), but refuses to have August near her, which makes Uncle Al extremely mad. Days later Marlena informs Jacob that she is pregnant.

One night Jacob climbs up and jumps each car, while the train is moving, to August's room, carrying a knife between his teeth intending to kill August. However, Jacob backs out and returns to his car, only to find no one there but Queenie. He then realizes that Walter and Camel were redlighted and Jacob himself was supposed to be too.

As the story climaxes, several circus workers who were redlighted off the train come back and release the animals causing a stampede during the performance.

In the ensuing panic, August is killed by Rosie the elephant, and the only one who sees the incident is Jacob. As a result of this incident, which occurred during a circus performance, the circus is shut down. Soon after, Uncle Al's body is found with a makeshift garrote around his neck. Marlena and Jacob leave, along with several circus animals (Rosie, Queenie and others), and begin their life together.

Ninety-three year old Jacob is waiting for his family to take him to the circus. It is uncovered that Jacob and Marlena married and had 5 children spending the first 7 years at another circus before Jacob gets a job as a vet for the zoo. After finding out no one is coming for him, elderly Jacob goes to the circus on his own. He soon meets the manager Charlie and begs him to accompany the circus by selling tickets. Charlie agrees and Jacob believes he has finally come home.


Sara Gruen has said that the backbone of her story parallels the biblical story of Jacob in the Book of Genesis.[4] The book contains multiple references to Ringling Brothers as the premier circus of the time. Also, photos of actual circuses and circus performers of the time are included throughout the book.

Major themes and symbols

The major themes explored in this novel include circus life during the depression (Gruen did extensive research on the subject[5]), the testing of a man’s moral compass, self worth, mental illnesses, acting on emotions, illusion vs. reality, and love triangles.

Water – A symbol of purification which is portrayed many times. Before Jacob jumps on the train the book states:

When I first submerged my feet into frigid water, they hurt so badly I yanked them out again. I persisted, dunking them for longer and longer periods, until the cold finally blistered."[6]

train tracks – Are a symbol of choosing one's direction in life. For instance, the book states:

"This is so odd...I'm running beside a moving train in the middle of nowhere."[7]

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.
Awards and nominations

2006 Quill Award nominee for General Fiction[8]
2007 Alex Awards selection[9]
Entertainment Weekly Best Novel of 2006 nominee
New York Times Best Seller list for 12 weeks in 2006 (peaked at #7 on August 20, 2006)[10]
Book Sense #1 pick for June 2006[11]
Winner of the 2007 BookBrowse award for most popular book [12]
The paperback hit #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list on July 8, 2007 [13]


2006, USA, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, a division of Workman Publishing, ISBN 1-56512-499-5, Pub date 26 May 2006, Hardback
2006, USA, Thorndike Press, ISBN 0-7862-9027-7, Pub date 15 December 2006, Large print hardback
2007, USA, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, a division of Workman Publishing, ISBN 1-56512-560-6, Pub date 1 May 2007, Paperback
2006, USA, Highbridge Audio, ISBN 1-59887-062-9, Pub date 1 June 2006, Audiobook

Film adaptation
Main article: Water for Elephants (film)

A major film adaptation by Flashpoint Entertainment and Fox 2000 Pictures is currently in production. Filming began on May 20, 2010 in Los Angeles, Piru, Fillmore, California, Chattanooga, Tennessee and Kensington, Georgia. The screenplay adaptation is by Richard LaGravenese. Francis Lawrence is the director, with production design by Jack Fisk, costumes by Jacqueline West, cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto and original music by James Newton Howard. The film stars Robert Pattinson as Jacob Jankowski, Reese Witherspoon as Marlena, and Christoph Waltz as August. Hal Holbrook will play the older Jacob Jankowski. Other cast members include Mark Povinelli as Kinko/Walter and Jim Norton as Camel, James Frain as Rosie's caretaker, Ken Foree as Earl and Paul Schneider as Charlie O'Brien.

The movie will feature TVRM #610 and former McCloud Railway No. 18. No. 18 was repaired to operational condition for filming. Once her scenes were finished, she was returned to her owners, the Virginia & Truckee Railroad in Virginia City, Nevada. Afterwards, she was put into service on July 24.

Water for Elephants wrapped filming on August 4, 2010 and is now in post-production. The film is set for release on April 22, 2011.
Pop culture

Water for Elephants was alluded to in The Dangerous Days of Daniel X.[14] The protagonist, Daniel X, a boy who has taken his parent's job of alien hunting after they are killed, is reading the book and comments that it is, "A honey of a story!"


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