Water for Elephants is set in the depression era of the 1930s. Jacob Jankowski (Robert Pattinson) is on the point of graduating as a vet when his parents are killed in a car accident. He finds himself homeless. After aimlessly jumping on a passing train, Jacob enters the world of a travelling circus, full of misfits, drifters and oddballs. They’re all struggling to survive in the hard economic times.
August (Christopher Waltz), the owner of the circus, allows Jacob to stay because August believes that Jacob is a vet and can look after the circus animals. August is a flamboyant but cruel and controlling man. He’s married to the beautiful Marlene (Reece Witherspoon), star of the equestrian act.
Jacob is a compassionate and humane person who looks after the animals with great care. He also manages to tame Rosie the elephant, a seemingly impossible task. He finds himself in trouble when he and Marlene fall in love.
Cruelty to animals; alcohol abuse; abusive relationships
This movie has some violence. For example:
- There are several fight scenes that show people bloody and bruised.
- Jacob is attacked and beaten on several occasions by other men, including August.
- August repeatedly hits Rosie the elephant with a bullhook, which causes cuts and bleeding.
- After Rosie causes a stampede, August is infuriated and goes into her cage and savagely beats her. We don’t see this, but we do hear it. When Jacob tries to step in, men grab him and beat him up.
- August attacks Marlene. This seems to be something that happens regularly.
- Jacob finds blood in the carriage where his friends should be and discovers they’ve been ‘redlighted’. This means they’ve been thrown off the train onto rocks and killed.
- Jacob almost kills August with a knife but can’t do it.
- Marlene hits August with the bullwhip to stop him killing Jacob. August then almost chokes Marlene to death, but Rosie kicks and kills him.
Content that may disturb children
In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, this movie has some scenes that could scare or disturb children under eight. For example:
- Jacob’s parents are shown dead in the morgue.
- August prods Rosie once too often. She rears up and stomps into the audience.
- Jacob has to shoot an injured horse.
Children in this age group could also be disturbed by some of the scenes mentioned above.
Younger children in this age group could also be disturbed by some of the scenes mentioned above.
This movie has some sexual references. For example, there’s a reference to Jacob not being able to perform sexually because he’s had too much to drink.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
This movie has some use of substances. For example:
- Characters frequently use and abuse alcohol.
- Characters give alcohol to the animals at times – sometimes for recreation, sometimes to ease pain.
- Characters smoke cigars and cigarettes.
Nudity and sexual activity
This movie has some nudity and sexual activity. For example:
- One scene shows a striptease act from behind.
- A man reads a girlie magazine, and there are brief glimpses of nude pictures.
- Marlene and August kiss and embrace in front of Jacob.
- Marlene and Jacob go to a hotel room. They kiss and undress.
- August makes Marlene and Jacob dance together, stare into each others’ eyes and touch each other.
None of concern
This movie has some coarse language.
Ideas to discuss with your children
Water for Elephants is a romantic drama that captures an era in which people lived very different lives and had different standards. The themes and harsh realities shown in the movie make it more suitable for adults and older teenagers.
The main messages from this movie are that women don’t have to stay in abusive relationships, and that animals should be treated humanely.
You might want to talk with your children about real-life issues raised by this movie. These issues include aggression, cruelty and the effects of excessive drinking on people’s behaviour.