Monday, January 14, 2013

LIFE OF PI - a short review by Julie Clarke

Scene from Life Of Pi, rephotographed from flyer.

Sometimes unpleasant life events hurtle towards us like a speeding freight train and we have no way of avoiding the dramatic impact. The way in which an individual deals with a serious life threatening event may be to face the situation logically, choose to deny their situation, find solace in religion or another philosophical belief system, or retreat into fantasy.
Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi) (Suraj Sharma) in Life of Pi (Ang Lee, 2012) was raised by a rationalistic father, an intuitive mother and although his family followed the teachings of Hinduism and the stories of its many Gods, he also sought out the teachings of Islam and Christianity. Coupled with this is his name – Pi an endless stream of numbers that goes on infinitesimally reflecting the way in which many people regard God. Pi also has a vivid imagination and therefore has a number of ways of approaching his dire situation when his family is lost at sea and he remains the sole survivor - a zookeeper’s son, adrift in a life boat. He initially shares the boat with a Zebra, a Hyena, a large Ape and a Royal Bengal tiger called Richard Parker (the only survivors of the myriad of Zoo animals that the family was shipping with them for their trip from India to America). After several vicious scuttles in which the tiger kills the other animals, Pi is left alone in the boat with this magnificent creature, who shares his adventure until he is finally rescued.
Pi has to deal with many things, his fear of the hungry tiger and the angry sea that continually surrounds them. Pi apologizes when he kills a fish reflecting the notion that animals have souls and draws us back to an earlier scene in the film in which Pi comes face to face with Richard Parker’s eyes and sees his soul. Our human relationship with domesticated animals is acknowledged, but what of those less tame? Those that may be close to our non-human selves, the part that we have by necessity learnt to control? In this sense the tiger – exotic, dangerous and unpredictable reflects both Pi and our own humanimality.
Ang Lee has this amazing way of making nature (and in this case, the sea) a character in itself. In Brokeback Mountain (2005) his wide angle shots of the overpowering landscape, which rendered the characters as smaller, insignificant, appeared to suggest that the homosexuality of the two protagonists was natural or 'of nature'. In Life of Pi the sea with all its emotions reflects Pi’s inner turmoil with himself, with the tiger and with God. Water, as a symbol of life not only represents uterine waters but also primeval waters from which all creatures in the world arose and Pi as a young man does not understand why everything that he has loved has been taken from him. He invariably blames his circumstances on an unseen hand, when he could simply have viewed the storm at sea as the force of nature. This film could be perceived as one concerned with Interfaith since the young Pi adopted some of the traditions of Hinduism, Islam and Christianity, but I see it not so much a search for God, but the varied ways in which people think about God. This unbelievable story not so much tests our faith (what do we all believe in) but asks us to suspend disbelief and in this way it is a film about rationality versus religion, or rationality versus imagination. But God and the world is everywhere in this film; in the story of Krishna that Pi’s mother told him at the beginning of the film, as the deity with the world in its mouth returns again towards the end of the film in a fantasy situation in which all images of Pi’s remembrance are reflected in the bio luminescent sea, the glistening night stars, the menagerie, the carnivorous island, the magic of it all, which the hands of a genius embraces through the technological mechanism of phantasmagorical film. The CGI affects are so compelling that we believe, we believe! Part creationist’s story, part biblical tale of Noah’s ark and the flood, this utter fantasy was magical for me purely because of the color and ritual of so many religions that was brought together in one film.
If the surging water was amazing in its ability to solicit our emotion, then the tiger had the ability more so, for when it struggled to free itself from the water, wet and bedraggled, we reached out to its eyes, its utter human or animality or whatever it is that brought forth from us a need to protect and save it.
I don’t know that the Life of Pi provides answers to any of the big questions of life, even though when Pi is thirsty rain comes, or when hungry he is provided with food – except to say that perhaps the message is that it you believe or have faith in yourself that the universe will provide.

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