‘Life of Pi’: A lesson in piety

“Life of Pi” labels itself as one thing: a story that will make you believe in God.

Imagine getting stranded on a boat with this fellow?

Imagine getting stranded on a boat with this fellow?

Based on Yann Martel’s award-winning novel, “Life of Pi,” the film tells the story of Piscine (sounds like “pissing”) Molitor Patel, also known as Pi — a religious Indian boy who has to move to Canada after his family encounters financial troubles. Pi encounters a minor setback though: when sailing to Canada on a Japanese ship, the ship is caught in a storm. Stranded on a lifeboat as the sole survivor of the storm, Pi is saddled with Richard Parker, the feral Bengal tiger his family kept in their zoo.

Directed by Ang Lee, known for his work in films such as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and “Brokeback Mountain,” “Life of Pi” is a visually stunning, cinema-graphic smorgasbord— featuring people swimming among the clouds, fire and lights floating on water, galaxies of stars, and many, many sunsets. However, for a film rooted in a book about faith, its message comes across a little hollow, echoing this line from the film: “Faith is a house with many rooms, and each room and floor is filled with doubt.”

Like faith, “Life of Pi” is frustrating. Albert Camus’s book “The Stranger,” known for its theory of the absurd, even makes a cameo in the film. While “Life of Pi” is supposed to be a very intellectual film, the philosophy is lost in the absurd, trippy, and surrealist images. At times, the film resembles a Salvador Dali painting — only instead of melting clocks, the film features a boy on a boat floating in the middle of clouds. If the 3D open water sequences haven’t made you seasick yet, the beautiful but abstract images will make your head hurt as you try to separate reality from a starved boy’s delusions.

Newcomer Suraj Sharma, who plays teenaged Pi in his first feature-length film, does bring honesty and likability to the otherwise flat 3D film. Sharma dances in the rain with such happiness that the viewer may want to join him. Meanwhile, in one of the highlights of the film, Sharma mourns the loss of his family; the emotion laced underneath his words allow the viewer to feel his pain — which makes his story more believable. After watching Sharma’s performance, the viewer realizes that he or she is invested in the story and character of Pi — even though Pi may prove to be an unreliable narrator.

“Life of Pi” thrives in the living oxymoron, taking you through a safari of the exotic — a tiger named Richard Parker and a hunter named Thirsty, an Indian French-Canadian who believes and practices Hindu, Christianity and Islam. As Pi’s father (Adil Hussain) tells him, “Believing in everything at the same time is the same as not believing in anything at all.”

After watching Ang Lee’s adaption of Yann Martel’s book, you’re not sure what to believe, or if you believe in anything at all. But perhaps, like God and religion, “Life of Pi” is not supposed to make sense.

“Life of Pi” was directed by Ang Lee. The screenplay, based off of the novel by Yann Martel, was written by David Magee.


3 thoughts on “‘Life of Pi’: A lesson in piety

  1. It’s difficult to put in words the numinous, the experience of that which is greater than our selves, as any attempt to experience the transcendent in the literal liner word distorts the experience and ends in the absurd.
    Surrealist images, symbols, metaphor, dream are tools of the artist to transcend the limitations of language and express a greater truth, an experience that is understood but not necessarily known.

    The use of such tools is an invitation to the viewer to enter into a experience which transcends the images and words being used. At the end of the experience we are asked which story we like best or put another way which path did we take? Neither choice right or wrong but only a awareness of a frame of reference.
    It is my opinion that the ability to experience the numinous in what is both inspiring and horrific in the same moment is worth exploring.

    In a time were absolutes are too often valued as the end goal the remainder that doubt and wonder are integral aspects of faith and not to be feared is refreshing.

    “Mythology opens the world so that it becomes transparent to something that is beyond speech, beyond words, in short, to what we call transcendence. If the metaphor closes in on itself and says “I’m it, the reference is to me or to this event,” then it has closed the transcendence, it’s no longer mythological…… “
    “My friend Heinrich Zimmer used to say the best things can’t be said. This is one of them. The second best are misunderstood. That’s because the second best are using the objects of time and space to refer to transcendence. And they are always misunderstood by being interpreted in terms of time and space. The third best: that‘s conversation. We’re using the third best in order to talk about the first and second best.” Joseph Campbell

  2. Pingback: Magnificent ‘Maleficent’ | Pass the Popcorn

  3. Pingback: Cracking the code to ‘The Imitation Game’ | Pass the Popcorn

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