Sunday, June 30, 2013

Life of Pi: The Theory of Relativity ... the relativity of truth

It may seem a bit incongruous for me to be reviewing this movie this late, but it is what it is.  I just watched Life of Pi today for the the first time.  I've had the Blu-ray since my birthday but we just recently advanced into the modern age by buying a 60" Sharp flat-screen.  I didn't want to sully the viewing experience by watching it on something so pedestrian as our 10 year old standard def monstrosity.  From the TV ads and what I knew about the movie, I expected it to be a visual experience ... at it was.

Bil at Journal Wunelle admirably reviewed Life of Pi months ago and I have absolutely no quarrels with any of his observations.  I came at my viewing of the film a little differently, as I read the book.  So I knew of its "twist", but it didn't make it any less interesting.  Unlike another critically acclaimed book with religious overtones that I didn't care for (The Lovely Bones), I did like Life of Pi by Yann Martel.

Pi, short for Piscene, is an India boy whose formative years are at his parents' zoo,  These years, while familiarizing him with the animals and training methods at the apparent heart of this story, are perhaps more important for the spiritual journey he takes.While his world is largely Hindu, Pi is a spiritual dabbler who also ventures into Catholicism and Islam.  To make sense of the world around him, he tries on whatever religion that will get to some kind of "truth".  His dad may preach reason and rationality, but Pi's mother understands Pi's yearning for something that answers the bigger questions.  Of course, one doesn't need religion to answer these "bigger questions", but this isn't my journey ... it's Pi's.

When conditions force his family to leave the zoo and relocate everyone, including the animals, to North America, several of the pillars of his emotional support are taken away ... his country, a girlfriend.  When the means of their transport, an aging ship, sinks, the last of his support, his family, are also taken away. So Pi resorts to the means he already knows to make sense of a senseless tragedy and to survive.  Regardless of one's religious views, the reader or viewer cannot begrudge him that.

While having religious faith may add a slightly different perspective on watching the movie, by no means do I think it is necessary.  I've heard the screenwriter talk about his perspective in writing the movie (which may have been different than Martel's) ... that Pi's journey required faith, but not necessarily religious faith.  Just faith in something.  It can be faith in God.  But it could also be in one's self, in humanity, in family, whatever.  Just something that keeps you going.  But even if the screenwriter didn't make that caveat, I still found it a fascinating and entertaining story.  Just because I'm an atheist doesn't mean I can't be interested in stories with religious themes.  By far, the scariest movie I've ever seen is the Exorcist, which doesn't make a lot of sense for me to be afraid of.  And, in general, the movies I find scariest are demon-possession types.

Religion, from a story-telling standpoint, is endlessly fertile ground because of the fascinating elements of redemption, resurrection, forgiveness, etc.  Many of those elements are present in Life of Pi.

The method of the storytelling ... the adult Pi retelling his adventure to a writer (one imagines it being Martel)... adds to the reality/fantasy blend that is at the heart of the story.

The acting is good, but not so much the focus.  Of any of the actors, I believe that Irrfan Khan (of Slumdog Millionaire fame) as the adult Pi is strongest.  The focus is gloriously on the visuals of the film.  Seeing this on Blu-ray on a nice TV was fantastic.  The colors and settings are vibrant, almost dream-like, as one would expect when a story is told through the prism of a particular person's recollection.  When that recollection is further augmented by desire and need, it is not hard to see why some considered the book unfilmable.  But director Ang Lee rarely disappoints in anything, and certainly didn't in his Oscar-winning work here.  I recommend this movie.  Grade:  A