SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t seen Water for Elephants (or read the novel it’s based on), stop reading now. As the headline suggests, we’re discussing the ending.
I hadn’t read Sara Gruen’s novel when I went to see the movie. Judging from the talk of a famous circus disaster, and shot of Reese Witherspoon atop an elephant during a crowd stampede in the trailer, I wasn’t expecting her character, Marlena, the star attraction and wife of the cruel ringmaster August (Christoph Waltz), to live. Add in Hal Holbrook — as the elderly version of Robert Pattinson’s Jacob (who hops the circus’ train, becomes its veterinarian, and falls for Marlena) — recounting this tale solo, and it seemed like it was Titanic on land. I was so convinced Marlena would die that even as she and Jacob walked toward one another after Rosie the elephant rescued her from August, I was waiting for one of the cats that had been let out of its cage to pounce on her. That would have been a terrible ending, so I’m glad it didn’t happen, but still: Who else was surprised that Jacob and Marlena got their happily ever after? (Even though I believe people should find love again after their partner dies, it’s always weird to hear someone at the center of an epic movie love story talk about having children with someone else because for us, only five minutes as gone by, right? We were spared that here. The five children Jacob spoke of not visiting him often enough at the nursing home were with Marlena.)
Other than my shock over the happy ending, I left the theater with two other thoughts: Pattinson was perfectly acceptable in this role. I watched with my pen in hand, ready to jot down moments when he was amazingly good or awesomely bad. The only thing I jotted down was “Hello, ma’am” — how he greeted a giraffe. That’s the Pattinson I like best, the flirt with a sense of humor. It’s the one you only really get to see on talk show appearances or Twilight movie commentary tracks. I’d love for him to find a well-written film that showed that side of him. (He can keep this ’30s haircut, too. Totally hot.) Secondly, Waltz needs to do a movie with Baz Luhrmann.