Monday, 21 January 2013

Life Of Pi 3D - movie review

Life Of Pi

Life of Pi (2012). In 3D. Let's make a note right at the start that I have NOT read the book. I have NOT read the book. So all of the opinions and remarks are solely based on the movie (in 3D) as I have NOT read the book. Did I mention that I have NOT read the book, yet? Also, it's been over a week since I went to see this movie, so my memory of it is getting a wee bit shaky. Excuse false information if I get my tid bits mixed up.
There. Now that's out of the way, everything from this point on can be considered a spoiler.


The movie goes thusly:
Young writer (Rafe Spall) wants to interview Pi Patel (Iffran Khan: adult Pi) on how he survived the ship he was supposed to travel to Canada on sinking and being ship wrecked for 227 days. Everyone keeps saying the story will make him believe in god. We start at the very beginning of Pi not even existing yet, but how his parents' friend like a swimming pool and that's why Pi was named after it. Then we see little Pi (Gautam Pelur) at school, a little older Pi (Ayush Tandon) trying to feed a tiger and finally the young adult Pi (Suraj Sharma), that's the main protagonist, having a crush and thinking deep. Pi has a brother, but we don't much talk about him except that he's a bit of a weenie. Pi's dad (Adil Hussain) is the logic-worshipping non-godbeliever. Pi's mom (Tabu) is the ├╝ber-sexy perfect woman who is both gentle, smart and god-fearing. The family owns a zoo. They come to hard times and hatch a plan to sell the zoo to Canada where they will all go on a cargo ship. Gerard Depardeu is the chef on the ship. There are buddhists on the ship too. There's a storm, the entire ship up and sinks. Pi wakes up in a life raft with a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena and a tiger. The hyena eats the zebra, the orangutan beats the hyena but then gets eaten and the tiger gets sick of the noise the hyena makes and thumps it. Pi and tiger sail along and catch fish. Nothing happens. There's a storm. They find magical island shaped like a hindu god with meerkats. They find land. Pi is saved, tiger buggers off into the wild. The company that owns the cargo ship interview Pi. He tells them two stories, only one of which includes cannibalism. This is all very magical and then the movie ends.

The good bits first. The cinematography is very very pretty. If you saw the trailers, you'll already know that this includes some astaunding images. Beyond the obvious one where the magic of creation is reached for, there are beautiful street images of India, of the wildlife at the zoo, of the sea. The sea is amazing, whether dead calm or raging, it's an entity on itself in the movie. So is the image of the god-shaped island floating in the middle of two oceans, the one with water and the one with stars. The tension and pacing are for the most part, well-crafted. You wont be bored. Being that the bulk of this movie is the boy and the tiger in the middle of the ocean, it could've very well become tedious to watch. Though the same thing could be said against the movie in that since we're talking of uncomunicative isolation for 227 days, you don't really get a sense of that much time passing, nor the desparation (or insanity) such a situation would create. All the acting is at the very least competent. Iffran Khan shines. So do the melee of buddhists with their amazingly short amount of screen time. They almost seem like the only three dimentional people in this. The opening credits with the animals at the zoo will make you smile. Well, hopefully, unles you're a sociopath with no heart.

Now on to the questionable bits. The CG tiger is for the most part terrible and not necessary. It's used in all the wrong places, with seeming effort to get it appear wise and godly and connected to the universe which just makes it come off as incredibly hokey. It looks computer generated and it's there to bate you with "ancient wisdom". Brain says "Nope!". The tiger kills a goat through some metal bars, somehow managing to catch it, kill it and then swiddle it through the narrow bars without damage to the goat. Brain is going "Nope" again. Young adult Pi doesn't come off very worse for wear having been shipwreked for over 200 days with no proper nutrition. He also takes his parents' passing (we're not taking notice of the brother here) remarkably well. Almost as if it didn't happen. The sinking of their ship is tragic but the way things are handled, the only real surprise you'll experience is when the parents AREN'T already in Canada, just waiting for Pi to get there. There's little emotional impact there. The worst you'll feel is when none of the buddhists make it and when the hyena kills the orangutan. The 3D is pointless and annoying (and I'm not just saying that because I have to wear the 3D glasses over my own glasses and they hurt my nose and ears). All of the Depth Of Field tricks could've been done to better effect with simply playing with the camera's depth of field without any forced 3D effect. Fluffy animals don't magically become cuter when viewed in 3D! Srsly. Can we just be done with the 3D now? Depardeu stands out like a sore thumb. Your first instinct is to wonder what sort of a luxury liner this is when they can afford to hire international actors as chefs to be mean to the customers. Pi's parents moaning about the lack of vegan food on the cargo ship comes off as priviliged whining instead of the anxiety felt by someone forced to leave their home country it was probably supposed to be. For whatever reason, the Patel family speak english with a stereotypical indian accent to each other. Uncomfortable whinges of racism swept through the audience. Hindi wasn't an option? All the "wonder of nature" shots were already in the trailer. So if you're going to see this expecting it to be all that but more.. it's not. That was it. Don't watch the trailer, you'll get more out of those shots that way. And by now you're probably saying "But this is all kind of nitpicking, the point of the movie isn't in these details" and you'd be right.

Ok, the biggest issue I have with this movie is the terrible, pseudo-spiritual philosophy it tries to pass off as something meaningful. The central idea is that this incredible story of survival is supposed to make you believe in god. This is repeated several times throughout the movie. "It will make you believe in god". So you go ok, let's see what you've got, I'm all eyes and ears. I think the object of the movie is to be god-positive. I think. There are 2 specific sequences here that are supposed to make you into a believer. The first is Pi finding that floating island with all the meerkats. He says that without the island, he would've died. Yet the very next scene after he leaves the island is him finding actual land and getting saved. The way the events are sequenced, he was just a hop and a skip away from actual land, so being on the floating island for a night makes absolutely no difference to his survival. "But the island was shaped like a hindu god and had teeth inside flowers and pools of water that turned acid at night and all those meerkat!". Yeah, that sounds like hunger induced hallucination to me. Also, he would have no way of seeing the shape of the island. And meerkats don't live in tropical climates. Which makes all of the island a giant pile of hallucination rather than something that "saved his life but would have killed him if he'd stayed". Was he in a coma that he was magically awakened from so he wouldn't die? I'll buy the coma explanation, but really, none of this requires the existence of a god.
The second sequence comes when Pi is at the hospital getting interview by the japanese representatives of the cargo company. They don't believe the story we've just seen as a movie, so Pi tells them another story which involves his mum, Depardeu and one of the buddhists surviving the ship. Depardeu kills the buddhist for bate and for eating. Then he and Pi's mum get into a scuffle and both die. Pi survives on fish and eating people. He asks if this is the story the investigators want to hear. The story with all the animals is reported as the official one, everyone smiles like there's some great magical mystery being revealed here.
This is supposed to be the bit that makes you believe in god because everyone chooses to believe the story with all the cute animals doing animal things and meerkats instead of humans being cannibals. Tell me what the moral of this is? The story of cannibalism is very specific, in a way a trauma survivor tells their story, recalling some things in vivid detail and not knowing how other things even happened. The reporters even point out that all the people in the cannibal story are represented by animals in the other. Hyena The Noisy Asshole is Depardeu, the kindly orangutan (who had a baby with her before the shipwreck) is Pi's mum, the wounded zebra is the wounded buddhist that gets eaten first. Pi is the tiger who remains on the boat alone and eventually goes off to live a full life in the jungle. The way this is set up, it screams THERE WERE NEVER ANY ANIMALS JUST THE PEOPLE EATING OTHER PEOPLE but we just don't want to think about that or talk about it, so everyone chooses to believe the story with the cute animals, because it's cute and easy and it nicely gets you off the hook of thinking about cannibalism and survival and any really deep thoughts on the interconnectivity of life and people and actions even when they're not cute and fluffy. And yet, the wisdomous smiles everyone keeps sporting at the end are supposed to give the impression that there really were animals and oh isn't it wonderful how those corporate investigators too came to see how amazing life is when they put the cute animal story in their official report. Whichever one of the stories you believe to be The Real One, it doesn't require any sort of specific belief in a god. In the animal story, the animals act very much like animals do, in the cannibal one humans act like humans.
Two conclusions I can make of this mess: 1. the makers of the movie hate religion and all faiths and want to point out how religion is a way for people to lie to themselves in order to avoid dealing with reality OR 2. the makers of this movie just don't really grasp the implications of thinking about their metaphors and genuinely thought that this passes as spiritual and well-thought out philosophical piece.

In conclusion: should you see this? Sure. Go see it. It's very pretty, it's very entertaining and it probably should be viewed at a theater rather than a TV/computer screen. Don't watch the trailers. Don't expect it to be anything other than very pretty and occasionally engaging. Enjoy the cast that is for once, filled with actual people of colour rather than Hollywood name actors in latex/CG trying to pretend being members of another race. It's not terrible. It's just not nearly as deep as it likes to think.
Now I probably should read the book.

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