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Thread: Life of Pi

  1. #1
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    Default Life of Pi

    Life of Pi (2012)
    Irfan Khan. Directed by Ang Lee.

    Pi Patel is a sixteen-year-old boy on a lifeboat in the middle of the sea, all alone. Except for a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. His parents and brother have gone down with the cargo ship that carried them from their old life in India toward their new life in Canada, and he is confronted with all the usual concerns about survival and rescue. Plus that tiger.

    The child of secular, progressive, educated parents, Pi has baffled his family by embracing religion at an early age: not only the Hindu religion of his community, but Islam and Christianity as well, finding access to God in all three expressions of faith. You’d expect a boy with such spiritual leanings to expound on them in light of his lifeboat-at-sea-with-a-tiger situation, but then when one’s every ounce of energy is spent on just surviving, perhaps Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of basic needs becomes the only religion one has time for. Not only does the voice-over narration of grown-up Pi many years later not discuss his spiritual survival while we observe his struggle, but neither does he do much to deliver on the promise someone else makes that this is “a story to make you believe in God.”

    The film can be forgiven for attempting to be a spiritual movie without being direct about its spirituality. Some films I’ve found most spiritually uplifting and satisfying are films that don’t tell us what to think or do. But where films like Groundhog Day and Contact make an attempt to show us how deeply their main characters have been touched by their respective situations, Life of Pi seems content to let the viewer assume spirit-changing growth simply by telling us what the events are. It tells us what happened externally while Pi is at sea, but it doesn’t want to tell us what else happened, and then it doesn’t want to tell us what our takeaway is supposed to be. This is a ripoff because it is clear from the beginning that it wants to be a spiritual movie. It’s as much a spiritual tease as those PG films about crazy college students hanging out at the beach are physical teases.

    This attempt at profundity that’s never really arrived at is the film’s great flaw, and if it weren’t such a huge part of the setup, that could also be overlooked, because Life of Pi is visually a breathtaking film. It’s not often you see scene after scene of something you’ve never seen before, but this film does it. I saw it in its 3D presentation, on a very large screen, and for the first time I can think of, the 3D actually enhances the film beyond a level of novelty (No, I have not seen Avatar). My biggest gripe with 3D is the dimming effect the glasses have on the picture, an effect that seems never to be compensated for, and that holds especially true for this film, which tries to dazzle us with bright, shiny, luminous scenery. Given the choice of losing the cool 3D in favor of a brilliant image or accepting the dimmer cinema in favor of the impressive 3D, I’d take the former. It would still be a bunch of stuff you’ve never seen on a screen, but at least it would look better.

    I have read the novel upon which this film is based, and the best thing I can say about the comparison is that Ang Lee has made the film version of the novel. The novel’s strengths are a lyrical narrative voice and a main character we can like and believe in (for a time, anyway). The film lacks that voice which can only be delivered in prose storytelling, but it provides a similar effect with amazing visuals and a story that flows easily from one scene to the next. Unfortunately, the novel’s shortcomings are also the film’s, so whether you like the film or not depends mostly on how much in love you fall with those visuals or how readily you can accept the metaphors of Pi’s ordeal as something meaningful and affecting.

    Although it is worth a look, it just doesn’t do it for me.

    6/10 (IMDb rating)
    65/100 (Criticker rating)
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  2. #2
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    Red face Re: Life of Pi

    I listened to a couple of podcasts that got into some serious debates about this film, particularly what it's trying to say about "spirituality" and how we choose (if we choose) to interpret what experiences ultimately mean. Just the thorough nature of the arguments made me curious, even though (from what I can gather) I'd also be among those generally frustrated in the end.

    Quote Originally Posted by scrivener View Post
    I saw it in its 3D presentation, on a very large screen, and for the first time I can think of, the 3D actually enhances the film beyond a level of novelty (No, I have not seen Avatar). My biggest gripe with 3D is the dimming effect the glasses have on the picture, an effect that seems never to be compensated for, and that holds especially true for this film, which tries to dazzle us with bright, shiny, luminous scenery. Given the choice of losing the cool 3D in favor of a brilliant image or accepting the dimmer cinema in favor of the impressive 3D, Iíd take the former. It would still be a bunch of stuff youíve never seen on a screen, but at least it would look better.
    I've heard a lot of good things about the 3-D in "Life of Pi," including a clever trick with aspect ratio that apparently made my geek friends gasp. But I have the same complaint about the brightness, and while I wouldn't besmirch our good friends at the local theater chains, I've always suspected that they're not projecting at the highest power in the hopes of prolonging the life of their very expensive bulbs. 3-D projection already sucks up to 20 percent of the brightness of a conventional film, and that's with everything optimized. I really wonder what a good 3-D movie looks like in a good 3-D theater with good (not scratched and hazy) 3-D glasses.

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    Default Re: Life of Pi

    Nice review! But you didnít even mention the Ending, which was somewhat controversial, and the source of my biggest concern.

    I think I liked Life of Pi a little more than you did. Having also read the book, I agree with your basic assessment of book vs. movie. Ang Lee, for the most part, was faithful to the book (for better or worse). Ultimately, my take on the book (and the movie) was that it was all about perceptions: perceptions of religion and spirituality, as well as perceptions of reality and fantasy, and perceptions related to story-telling and the suspension of belief. Boy, now thatís a mouthful! But I think Ang Lee took that aspect of the book and ran with it, creating some amazing visuals. For this alone, I would recommend Life of Pi the movie. (I saw it in 2D so canít comment on 3D.) There are other things (the amazing performance of Suraj Sharma as Pi, for instance) that add to my recommendation.

    Back to the ending. I think if the movie (and the book) ended before the Ending, it would have been an easy call. But that Ending is cause for discussion. Unfortunately, that would violate the spoiler rule, so almost no one talks about it. You would need a room for people who have already seen/read the movie/novel so you can talk about it.

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    Default Re: Life of Pi

    Wow, I find Scriv's review to be totally off the mark. This never pretends to be a spiritual movie, it's always and only a psychological journey for the protagonist and the audience. Just because the boy examines a few religions doesn't suggest a spiritual turn at all. The two concepts are entirely distinct and unrelated - and that position is supported by the movie's narrative. I guess Scriv is taking his own baggage into this film instead of seeing what it presents on it's own. This was a very good movie, with a finish that puts the narrative into perspective and speaks to how we cope with the terrors we all must confront or ignore in our daily lives (and not just in unusual or extreme circumstances).
    Last edited by salmoned; February 5th, 2013 at 02:20 PM.
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    Default Re: Life of Pi

    Quote Originally Posted by scrivener View Post
    It tells us what happened externally while Pi is at sea, but it doesnít want to tell us what else happened, and then it doesnít want to tell us what our takeaway is supposed to be. This is a ripoff because it is clear from the beginning that it wants to be a spiritual movie.
    Then maybe the intent is to portray spiritual changes as accidental accompaniments to external events -- epiphenomena. That would make it cynical and anti-spiritual.
    Greg

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    Default Re: Life of Pi

    Quote Originally Posted by salmoned View Post
    I guess Scriv is taking his own baggage into this film instead of seeing what it presents on it's own. This was a very good movie, with a finish that puts the narrative into perspective and speaks to how we cope with the terrors we all must confront or ignore in our daily lives (and not just in unusual or extreme circumstances).
    You could be right. In addition to whatever baggage I'm carrying, I'd add that I read the novel and might be seeing it through that extra lens.

    As Honoruru says, I kind of leave out a big plot element. I wonder how you saw that little twist, and Pi's question after he presents the twist:

    When the narrator soaks in Pi's second story, Pi asks him (in the novel, he asks the two Japanese men, not the narrator), "Which story do you like better?" and when the narrator says, "The story with the animals," Pi responds, "So it goes with God." This seems to me a huge line in both the novel and movie, 'though I don't know what the heck that's supposed to mean. Is this not a question about the spiritual leanings of each person who receives Pi's two stories?
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  7. #7

    Default Re: Life of Pi

    The review is great!

    Scriv has done the mental work to help us see this stuff.

    I look forward to many more reviews of this quality.

    Don't let the naysayers bring you down .

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    Default Re: Life of Pi

    I see, the book had a spiritual angle, eh? That would constitute baggage.

    I saw no need to withhold my opinion on the ending - you have it there in your quote. It may not be a spoiler, but I think it reveals my take.

    I also enjoy your reviews, enough to comment when I disagree.
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    Default Re: Life of Pi

    You may consider this as the 'spiritual' angle - Pi takes up several religions and is committed to the virtues of the religious mindset without being committed to one particular religion. He then undergoes a traumatic experience and copes with that trauma by converting it into a religious story, that is to say, a story outside of any possible reality (that is exactly what every religion has at it's root - a story requiring faith outside the bounds of rational comprehension). In the end, he admits to the reality of what happened and allows his questioners to choose for themselves which story to report - the rational, objective, unedifying truth or the patently false (but emotionally placating and gratifying) story.

    I think persons with a tendency for religious belief may find it easy to ignore or dislike the gist of this movie and book. You see, it is not spiritual at all, but rather a simplistic example of the process of religious story fabrication. [Create a fantastical story to replace the unbearable truth that we are nothing more than animals]

    I now have this in my collection - I find the movie equal to, if not better than, the book - and that is rare.
    Last edited by salmoned; December 28th, 2014 at 01:23 AM.
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    Default Re: Life of Pi

    He then undergoes a traumatic experience and copes with that trauma by converting it into a religious story, that is to say, a story outside of any possible reality.
    This never occurred to me, and it's a great thought. I need to chew on it a little. Thanks for the insight.
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