My wife and I finally watched Water for Elephants. And we loved it. It’s a well-written, well-acted story about a man falling in love with a woman. Without giving too much away, the story is set during the Depression in the context of the circus. I have no idea if that sounds like a promising set up for a love story, but it works. As a bonus, the film features Reese Witherspoon, “Edward” from Twilight (although he is much less sparkly in this film), and “Landa” from Inglorious Basterds (one of the creepiest villains ever).
As the movie unfolds, you find yourself rooting for Jacob (“Edward”) and Marlena (Reese Witherspoon) to get together—you really don’t have a choice, the movie almost forces you to want them to be together. They are a perfect pair, they are romantic, and it is clear that they would love each other for life. But there is a problem: Marlena is married to the circus ringleader, August (“Landa”). August treats Marlena poorly, and Jacob has to try to protect Marlena from her husband.
As a Christian, I feel a tension at this point. Jacob and Marlena clearly seem right for each other, and I don’t enjoy the thought of this poor woman being mistreated by her creepy husband. But she’s married. Can I really root for a woman to leave her husband in favor of a better, nicer, more romantic husband?
The movie resolves the tension by implicitly teaching that love is more powerful than marriage. Marriage is fine and good, unless you’re married to the wrong person. Feeling love is far more important than maintaining a commitment.
That’s a message I can’t endorse. I want to see “true love triumph” as much as the next guy (“the next girl” would probably be more accurate, it’s not a very manly movie), but the Bible has a lot to say about the value and permanence of marriage. As great as romantic feelings are, they simply do not supersede commitments made before God.
Overall, the movie is fairly “clean” (there are a couple of suggestive parts), and I wouldn’t hesitate to call it a good movie. But even good and “clean” movies can teach bad things. Do we avoid all such films, then? I don’t think so. At least, not necessarily. The key is to use discernment and try to see every aspect of our world and our culture the way God sees it. When we take this approach, we can learn a lot about the values and desires of the people around us. Then we can help them see that God’s kind of love is far better than any circus romance could possibly be.