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Water for Elephants - intentional spoiler alert

Last night I watched the movie Water for Elephants directed by Francis Lawrence, starring Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson and Christoph Waltz.  The quality of the production was very good.  The acting, scenery, camera work, was all excellent.  But all this was lost under the endless frames of violence.

The bulk of the storyline, which was potentially a very good storyline, was filled with scenes of brutality, oppression and denigration of human and animal life. Frame after frame showed us just how depraved and brutal, the circus owner was.  After half an hour you get it.  The owner, August, clearly a psychopath, created his world based on the premise that you must beat down the life force in all living creatures - even those you profess to love, until all that remains is unquestioning obedience through fear.

The mainline story is about the love between a runaway hired hand, a vet student who was called away from his exams when his parents were killed in a car accident, and the circus owner's wife who is the "star performance".

The movie starts out with so much promise and descends into a tale of good versus evil; showing us how evil August is, and how good the hero is.  How beauty and innocense is raped over and over again for one and a half hours, while the love story ending gets about twenty minutes.

Why spoil such good storylines with so much emphasis on the violence?  Is it to make sure that everyone, no matter how stupid or numb, gets it? Is it because of the touted notion that violence and sex sells?

For me, the beauty of the elephant, the costumes, the actors, was crushed under the same hammer until my insides were so enraged that I was shaking. Yes I know its a movie and that it isn't real, but it isn't just the visuals that enrage me, its the consistent elevation of violence in entertainment, and what it does to our nervous substrate, that makes me so angry.

The book, written by Sara Gruen, is reviewed by, and it says

Water for Elephants moves between the story of the traveling circus in 1930 to the story of the older Jacob’s fight to maintain sanity. While most of Water for Elephants is about the circus, the chapters about the older Jacob provide a depth to the novel and a poignancy to the story that makes the whole book richer and more real.

So why did this story that had so much cinematic potential become drowned in brutality? It would likely have cost millions to create.  Is there a message that the backers required from the movie in order to get their funding?  How does violence observed work within the senses when it is overemphasized? What does it do to young imaginations as they learn to participate in their community?


  1. The biggest problem with this movie is that it is corporate propaganda for Ringling Bros.

    The entire show focuses on one bad apple. At the end we're told that the romantic couple and their elephant lived a long happy life working for Ringling, as if they don't use bull hooks and don't exploit workers and animals for profit.

    What a crock.

  2. Thanks Stu. I hadn't heard of Ringling Bros before you mentioned it.


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