So, an awesome movie loving friend of Trianglemovietalk’s got us into a 3D pre-screening of the new Ang Lee filmed version of Life of Pi. I don’t know if it’s enough for me to say I’m already trying to think of what to get her for Christmas as a thank you. Because only the poopiest of party poopers can walk out of a screening of this movie with anything less than a goofy grin, a little tear in the eye, and absolute satisfaction. It doesn’t always mean that a movie is the best movie, or the most interesting movie, or whatever. But every once in a while you see a movie that not only regenerates your love of movies in general, it actually illustrates why movies do and should exist in the first place. Life of Pi will do all of that for you, if you’ll just go see it.
I’ll confess right off the bat to not having read (yet) the Yann Martel book from which the movie was made. I would imagine, as is almost always the case with books made into movies, that there was much left out and that the imagination of a reader can take the reader places a film can’t take you. But I can’t imagine, even having not read the book, that Martel could be upset with what Ang Lee produces with his film. The basics of the story revolve around a shipwrecked boy (the Pi in the title) trying to survive on the open ocean in a tiny dingy alongside a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. And I don’t care how much of Richard Parker was played by real tigers, and how much was done with CGI. But if there has been a more complete, nuanced character on film so far this year than Richard Parker, I want to see him (or her). Simply put, I demand that the Academy give a nomination to Richard Parker. Really, if I don’t see a Bengal tiger in a tuxedo sitting down front next to Jack Nicholson come Oscar night, I’m not going to be happy.
And the Pi of the title is a true inspiration, in more ways than one. A curious, thoughtful boy who is completely and innocently open to the possibilities of many religions and spiritualities, his views evolve as he grows up in India under the watchful eye of a father who implores his children to be practical and reasonable. Reason, you might say, is the father’s religion. And Pi is respectful of his father and his father’s views, even while Pi’s nature and curiosity pushes him to explore all that is available to him in the tenets of diverse religions. We live in a world where there is a simultaneous extreme righteousness in many religions, accompanied on the other side of the coin by an often cynical and sometimes overly wary and judgmental view of the role of religion in people’s lives (often an extremely positive role). One of the beauties of Life of Pi is the way in which it explores, in a completely non-preachy way (I can’t emphasize the non-preachy-ness part enough), the way in which religion and spirituality can be a life affirming and saving thing for a person. In Pi’s case, the human spirit and the spirit he possesses and has nurtured through his young life (not taken dogmatically from any one religion), is ultimately what saves him.
Alongside the themes of religion and spirituality and the human spirit in general, is a more subtle exploration of the self-imposed constrictions and limitations we put on ourselves in order to live our lives. What is it that we are even willing to believe, and how healthy is it for people to limit themselves in their imagination, their willingness to accept and believe in things outside a certain box, or at least outside what a society says is “believable” or “Ok”? If you’re not inspired to be more open, to be more accepting of others, to consider that maybe you don’t have all the answers, that it’s alright to not know everything, that people and things different from you aren’t inferior (and plenty more themes that we should all gladly take in), you’ve missed the point of this wonderful story and movie.
Oh, and by the way, on top of and just as important and enjoyable as all this inspiration, you simply won’t see a more beautiful film in the theater this year than Life of Pi. We had the advantage of seeing the movie in 3D, which was used to an absolute “T” by Ang Lee, taking you to places of fantasy and places of beauty and places of nature that will leave you smiling with the sense of wonder that movies should be able to produce. The 3D effects are perfect, but not over-done and not used just to be used, if that makes sense. They simply bring out the beauty of a natural world that is out there, a world that can also become threatening and violent at the drop of a hat. Pi is left to fight the elements most of all, but also himself and his beliefs. And although always mesmerizing and beautiful, it’s not a smooth ride for Pi. There are moments of true sadness, moments of loss and grief that occur in all of our lives. The movie is going to leave you mostly with inspiration and hope, but also a touch of melancholy for those you may have lost yourself.
In the end, it’s early, but I can’t imagine Life of Pi not being a prominent part of Oscar night. Oftentimes you hear a movie described as the “type of movie that Hollywood loves to honor”. A lot of the time, a declaration like that is made half mockingly and sarcastically, often for a movie that is clichéd and rote. Life of Pi may or may not be the type of movie that Hollywood will honor. But I can’t think of a better example of a film that encapsulates and takes advantage of all the best of what a well-made movie can deliver. The story, the visuals, the wonder, the inspiration is all there. Go see it. Enjoy it. And most of all, take a minute or two to think about it now and then after you see it.