Posted in Book Reviews, Book to Movie, Discussion Topic, Movies

Book to Movie: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

On behalf of 20th Century Fox via Think Jam publicity, I have read Water for Elephants and watched a screener DVD of the movie adaptation for the purpose of discussing “book to movie”.

Here are the discussion questions I’ll be addressing.


The elements of the 1930’s that I enjoyed the most were the references to the depression and prohibition. Knowing that our current economy is suffering much the same as it did during the depression; it was enlightening to see how Americans worked through the issue of not having money. Bartering for services or goods wasn’t uncommon in the 30’s. The fact that Jacob’s entire situation is the result of the depression is quite sad. His parents decided that his education was worth the bank owning their home. It didn’t help any that his father provided veterinary services in exchange for eggs or chickens. Jacob is very much like his father. He quickly puts the safety and wellbeing of himself behind the needs of the animals he loves to take care of. Prohibition is one thing that baffles me. I don’t understand why it happened really. I guess I fell asleep during that history lesson. It seems a lot of no good resulted from prohibiting the making, selling and consuming of alcohol. Seeing that first hand in Camel’s character was quite sad. The book does a finer job at depicting the close relationship that Jacob has with both Camel and Walter than the movie did.

Having written the novel from Jacob’s point of view was a great idea. I thoroughly enjoyed reading his thoughts and emotions. I don’t think I would have enjoyed it from Marlena’s point of view. Maybe switching between the two would have been nice. Jacob had never seen a naked woman and was a virgin in the book. This wasn’t portrayed in the movie at all. I was disappointed in that small detail being taken away from Jacob’s character. Robert Pattinson added quite a lot of “boyishness” to Jacob. His smile was so genuinely bright, like a kid in a toy store most of the time, you could tell he was a softy, wet behind the ears. Robert did such a great job showing how Jacob matured throughout the movie.

Reese Witherspoon did a great job portraying Marlena. I liked what the director, or whomever it was, said in the “extras” of the DVD: Reese spills American from her pores (not verbatim but that’s the gist of what he meant). She just looks like the perfect, average American woman. Her style of clothing in the movie was exactly as I’d envisioned while reading.

The romance between Jacob and Marlena is a touchy subject for me. First, I am not a fan of any form of adultery. Why Marlena was still married to August if she didn’t love him enrages me. I know it has everything to do with the fact that it was the 1930’s and again, that enrages me. The fact that woman were stuck in relationships with men that abused them in one way or another is mindboggling. Parents, friends and society should not disown you because you want to divorce an abusive man. The romance between Jacob and Marlena was handled okay in the movie. I do think it was steamier in the book because we know exactly how Jacob thinks and feels for her. There was also a bit more steamy situations in the book than the movie.

I had no idea how a circus did it’s thing at all before reading Water for Elephants. I didn’t even know they traveled by train! I learned so much from reading this book. I haven’t ever been to a circus before either, which I now am adding to the list of things I want to do before I die. My daughter went to one this past summer with her grandparents. I really wish we would have been invited to go along. I have much respect for the performers and the working men and women of the circus.

There were only a few scenes in the movie where music was played and I honestly didn’t pay much attention to it. In the book it’s mentioned a couple of times too but music in books doesn’t really register to me too much. The glitz and glamour were treated just fine in both the book and the movie. The movie did a great job with the train cars, especially August’s and Marlena’s, as well as with the overall scenery.

This was my first time seeing Christoph Waltz in a movie. I know he was in Inglourious Basterds but I didn’t watch that one. I think he did a great job of portraying August’s paranoid schizophrenia, which was named in the book but not the movie. He had the look of the charmer and the look of the crazy, angry nut head. I want to know why Big Al wasn’t a character in the movie? Why merge his character with August?

Those quotes are great quotes. I remember hearing them in the movie. I also remember the movie taking quite a different look and speed at the events in the book. I know quite few scenes didn’t happen the way they were shown in the movie as they were in the book. So, to me, these quotes had no impact on me what so ever. I do remember not liking that Marlena said I Love You first to Jacob. I loved that he poured his heart out to her in the book. I wish that would have stayed the same in the movie.

The best scene that was done perfectly in the movie as it was done in the book was when Jacob feds Rex with August. It was nearly flawless, minus August telling Jacob which bucket of meat Rex should get, and all sorts of funny and shocking. I watched the movie with my husband. He didn’t know what was going on. He was laughing because Rex was roaring and growling at Jacob. He was shocked when Rex latched onto Jacob’s arm and he was baffled as to why August thought it was the funniest thing in the world. I sat and watched both the movie and my husband’s reaction. It was identical to my reaction while reading the same scene. Very well done.

The special features or “extras” as they’re titled on the DVD I watched added that extra information you’re wondering about while reading and watching the movie. How did Reese learn how to be a performer? Why’d they pick Robert Pattinson to play Jacob? Why switch up the ending of the book and make it the beginning of the movie? Which I HATED! Reading about Jacob’s days in the nursing home were some of my favorite scenes. It showed his personality, even in his old age. I really enjoyed hearing the author talk about the research that she did to write the book too.

Thanks to 20th Century Fox I will be posting a bundle giveaway of the book and DVD of Water for Elephants! Please stay tuned for that post.

General thoughts on the book

The book was great. I highly recommend it to any one. There were a few adult, R-rated, scenes that I’d be leery of letting a young teen reading but nothing too explicit. I learned a ton about the circus and the 1930’s.

Water for Elephantsby Sara Gruen368 pages, Algonquin Books, (2011-03-01)

$8.31 (


Wife, mother of a nearly 7 year old daughter named Madison and new baby boy Riley. Avid reader on my Amazon Kindle. World of Warcraft and CS:S gamer.

One thought on “Book to Movie: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Leave a Reply