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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Water For Elephants: Reese Witherspoon is Electrifying!

Water for Elephants

Just this past Saturday night I saw the film. There were about five of us getting a private screening in the multiplex.  Reese Witherspoon gave one of the finest performances I've ever seen. I have not been complimentary of her in the past and I apologize for my stupidity in writing about her "new tricks" for this performance before I saw her. The trailers create a different impression but what else is new.

Her Marlena is so finely nuanced that she is a wonder to watch. Face to face with Pattinson her expressions screw up, her mouth tightens into a hard, harsh line, and we can glimpse the embittered woman that is emerging in her present life with August. How brave she is to do this! Not a seductive gaze to be seen as she talks to him across the table before August comes to join them. This is a woman from the working class or lower middle class with no illusions. Aware of the illusion she creates in her performances she thinks she is nothing in real life. She sees into this woman as Sarah Gruen could never have had the creative expertise to write her, as Lawrence the obtuse director could never have guided her, as the clueless screenplay skimmed over. (You're a beautiful woman, you deserve a beautiful life. So if you're ugly you deserve an ugly life? Gimme a break.) Marlena is not only tough, but she sees herself in the present and where she is heading down the line. Jacob's comment about the dry skin of Rosie does not escape her notice. She is not old but no longer young.

"Where were you when I was seventeen?" she says to Jacob. Well Jacob was somewhere in school. But she means that there were no young men around like him then just as there are no young men like Rob Pattinson around now.

The complaints about the sex scene and the lack of high powered chemistry between the two have been moaned over.

Get this straight. Marlena finally loves Jacob, but she does not fall in love with him. And there is the difference. He is fascinated with her, not in love, just absolutely fascinated and accepts the responsibility for this and what has occurred because of it. Inexperienced and innocent his feelings have been the catalyst for the crazed jealousy of August. (Go to Freud's explanation of paranoia for this if you are curious.) The sex scene in the hotel has been criticized for the lack of chemistry also. Lawrence has received not a little of it in that he has had no experience in directing romantic scenes. But Marlena is not a romantic, although she has been seducing him.  Jacob is attractive, educated, wants her, and he is responsible. And she loves him. Who wouldn't. It seems everyone learns to love him so why would she be any different. But so passionate that it has to be a steamy sex scene? No. It's a first time between two people who have not really committed themselves to each other. And one of them is fairly innocent. That the old Jacob has romanticized their relationship is true. But he is old and alone and his children are not very devoted. Jacob tells her he will get his degree, they will go to Ringling, all practical words to convince her of his intentions. When she is dragged away and he is beaten he plods after her. But knife in hand he cannot even kill August for her. Marlena looks at him with her bruised eye with the sleeping August's arms around her  and her look says it all. It's up to you if you want to kill for me. I won't urge you nor will I object. And in the book and film Jacob calls to Rosie in panic as he sees what she is going to do. Fortunately he cannot stop her and Rosie does it for him.

This is not a passion-love/death scenario. These are two people planning a future in the hotel room and as they go off to Ringling. As we see Jacob in his nineties, it is obvious that he has needed mollifying from time to time like August and Marlena knew this. He also maybe drinks just a little bit too much. Their children are not exactly adoring and attentive to him in his old age, and Marlena, while she is affectionate, is not sentimental with her horses, nor probably with her children. Caring yes, but also expecting certain types of behavior from them. Is all this in the book? In the screenplay? Hell no. Gruen could never have imagined it all nor does she have the ability to put it into words.

But Reese does exactly all that. We get a Marlena not on paper between covers, not in the screenplay nor in the flat footed direction. We get it from the experience and courage and intuitive imagination of Reese Witherspoon.

Waltz is very good but his is a watered down Landa from Inglourious Basterds. That he gave up the role of Jung with Cronenberg for this film makes me wonder about his real sanity.

As for Rob Pattinson, Lawrence has used him 99% of the time as eye-candy. And he has been there many times before (The Haunted Airman, Harry Potter). He is completely aware of this. He has the uncanny ability to send his feelings out in vibrations that have nothing to do with the character he is playing. I was anxious halfway through the film, feeling his discomfort. He is in every single scene. His face is very up close and personal in almost every shot. Baudrillard's analysis of the face as pornography says it all. Jacob/Pattinson is beaten up a lot, his face bruised, swollen and bloody. Hollywood used to do this to women a lot until the feminists protested this model for men. Now they use it as a femme sign for Rob Pattinson and since he is a male it is OK. It is NOT OK to use gratuitous sadism/masochism vented on a face to induce sexual stimulation, whether that actor is male or female. It is gratuitous period, like soft porn for no other reason than to sell tickets. And Lawrence has done the same with Rosie only that has backfired on him with real allegations. Reese and Christoph are constantly in the background, and it is as if Lawrence is saying he expects Rob Pattinson to be his ticket to success in the big time world of Hollywood directors. So he has planned all along in seducing Rob with Tai and jumping on the Pattinson bandwagon. Then he trots him out all over the world to make sure the foreign sales are up.

Simply, he is pimping Rob's face. Rob knows this and has no way of objecting. Lawrence does not dare interfere with Reese's interpretation of her role, nor Waltz's, but he controls the way Rob is seen with his camera. And his editing. Emile Hirsch would have been a better choice for the integrity of the film as he would have been expected and allowed to interpret his character instead of be a face. So any criticism of Rob Pattinson is NOT deserved.

I guess I could go on but who wants me to. I don't even want to.