Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Life of Pi

Eh, life. I haven't blogged in forever. It's just the usual after-Thanksgiving Break crunch, when papers are due; I return one set only to get another. This keeps up until after final exams. I'm on the verge of tearing my hair out, but I've been remembering to take at least a little time for myself. So, last Sunday, I went to see the movie Life of Pi--and was wowed.

A caveat: I have not read the book (although I may now). A friend who has tells me the ending of the movie is different from that of the book, but since I don't intend to talk about the ending (no spoilers!), that doesn't matter to me. Frankly, the ending made sense to me. We have two storylines. As the viewer, you get to pick the one you like. The one you prefer says something about who you are.

This is a movie about the existence of God (is there a God? Which religion is "right" about God? Does that even matter?), the natural world of beauty vs. destruction, and the human drive for survival and that remarkable thing we call consciousness. What's real? What isn't?

I saw the film in its 3D format, and with big questions such as these on the line, I suggest you do so as well. Certain elements pop out at you at just the right time, so the form fits the message in 3D as well. The director, Ang Lee, of Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame, knows what he's doing, and I'd say this one is a masterpiece of film-making and is by far the best film I've seen this year--maybe even in several years. I'm not much of a crier in films, but I admit it: I shed tears twice during two scenes that moved my cold, dead heart (okay, I'm kidding about the cold, dead heart.) But shedding tears during a movie is rare for me.

The basic storyline is this: the film is framed by a blocked writer in search of a story. In India, he's met a man who tells him to seek out Pi in Canada, who will tell him a story that will make him believe in God. (Pi jokes that this same man would say a good meal would make a person believe in God.) But the writer seeks Pi out and asks to hear his story. The film is Pi's story. As a child, Pi was an inquisitive young man, reading books by Camus and Dostosvesky, and also in search of a god or gods to believe in, so he winds up embracing bits of Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam. His father is sheer rationality and argues there is no sense in getting on a prayer rug and saying "Allah Akbar" and then at the dinner table the same night, declaring he wants to be baptized. But his mother realizes her son is a seeker and indulges him.

Eventually the political situation in India changes, so the family must move. They run a zoo (the animals are theirs, including a beautiful Bengal tiger), but the land is not, so they book passage on a Japanese freighter to make their way to Winnipeg, Canada, to start a new life. One night the ship runs into a wicked storm and the vessel is damaged and begins to sink. After swimming underwater down into the cargo hold to set the animals free, Pi manages to make his way onto a lifeboat--he loses his family, but he gains a new family of a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and the Bengal tiger.

The rest of the story describes how they managed to survive; and after some 225 days afloat across the mighty Pacific, living on canned rations, rainwater, and fish, Pi washes ashore on a beach in Mexico, with him and the tiger the only two remaining survivors.

Here I end the plot summary so as to not spoil any surprises, but there are other beautiful and fantastical elements of the film that will make you catch your breath: a breaching whale, flying fish, a seaful of jellyfish sparkling and shimmering in the water, a floating island of meerkats, and a lotus which, when fully opened, contains a single human tooth.

I have thought about this film for days, and it still hasn't left me. I know I'll probably watch it again one day and see things I didn't see the first time through. But it certainly isn't necessary to read the book to appreciate the movie. And as for those who fear the tiger dies: he does not.

The writer chooses which of the two stories given he prefers--and probably most people would. I know I did, reason be damned. As for god, here's my take-away. Perhaps God is human consciousness. And miracles happen within the conscious and subconscious minds. The subconscious--that little-used, so misunderstood enormous part of the river of our beings and brains--holds the key to god, holds within it the grace of god.  As an adult survivor of such a catastrophe, by any sense of reason Pi should be traumatized and troubled. He's not. He's happily married with two children and is a generous, joyful man.

So, you tell me.

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