Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Life of Pi

Life of Pi
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY


You know how on awards shows sometimes (especially the Grammys), or after anybody's won something major, you might see somebody thank God for giving them a talent that got them out of their double-wide trailer or their low-income housing project or their duplex and into the major leagues or a Hollywood movie, or a reality-TV show, which led to not only fame and fortune, but a chemical dependency and/or hours of community service and/or a police record as long as your arm?

I have no doubt that sometimes it is meant as a sincere expression of one's faith, but the frequency with which it tends to happen makes me question its sincerity sometimes. The notion that God cares so much about this one person over and above the other competitors that He/She/It/They is supposed to love equally never seemed to jibe with me. Winning a competition of any kind is a result of hard work, perseverance and dedication on the individual's part,,, but we're supposed to believe that God simply favored one over others in the end.

In the past two years, we've passed both the so-called "rapture" deadline and the Mayan apocalypse deadline and no supreme being of any denomination has come to liberate the "faithful" and usher in any kind of golden age of humanity, whether here on earth or in "heaven." As far as I can tell, this still has not stopped people from believing something of that nature will happen. People have believed this, in one form or another, for centuries. Isn't it time we put these pipe dreams away and start making this life livable while we can, instead of waiting for deliverance from above?

The story of the character Pi Patel in Life of Pi is supposed to make us believe in God, according to Pi himself. What I found was that it made me believe in man. I read the book before seeing the movie, so I knew going in what the twist in this story was. Still, seeing this story dramatized made me see it a little differently.

So much lip service is made to how Pi's faith helped get him through his ordeal, and how even in his darkest moments on that boat with that tiger, he was able to see the wonder of God and all that, but in both versions of his story, he himself did what he had to do to survive. He didn't sit around waiting for a miracle, he used his brain, his wits, to stay alive long enough to take advantage of opportunity when it arose. Some may call it divine intervention, but I call it opportunity. He was on that boat a long time.

So why are there two versions of the story? Here's my theory: Pi went through a highly traumatic experience and afterward, he needed to make sense of it somehow. He undoubtedly suffered some degree of survivor's guilt. The mind's a funny thing; it accepts what it chooses to accept, especially in the face of great trauma, so he framed his story in a context that cast him as a heroic figure whose faith in the divine was rewarded, instead of someone who had to kill another human being. 

That's a perfectly human inclination and I don't blame him for that. Still, I think that perhaps the strength of character and of will to survive however many days he was marooned in the middle of the Pacific is obscured in the urge to praise God, just as an award winner who thanks God doesn't give him- or herself enough credit for having the skills necessary to win that award in the first place. Remember, Pi is a story that's supposed to make us believe in God. Then again, perhaps Pi simply wasn't able to give himself credit. Like I said, survivor's guilt was probably eating him away in those first few months.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that in the face of a lack of concrete evidence as to God's existence, maybe we should stop attributing Him/Her/It/Them for achievements that we ourselves have made. This didn't keep me from appreciating Pi as a movie, however. I thought it was spectacular. The tiger genuinely scared the living crap out of me more than once. I couldn't believe it was a computer-generated creation.

It took me this long to see Pi because I was holding out for a non-3D showing. There definitely were some non-3D showings, but for one reason or another I was unable to get to them, until finally I decided I may as well dish out the extra bucks for it. Fortunately, it was at the Kew Gardens, which even in 3D is still cheaper than the city, or for that matter, most multiplexes anywhere in the five boroughs. Have I mentioned lately how much I love, love, LOVE the Kew Gardens?

The 3D was definitely worth it. As more A-list filmmakers like Ang Lee experiment with the format, I suspect it's gonna be harder and harder to resist. The 3D here was a bit show-off-y in places, especially the opening credits, but that's okay because it was so beautiful, maybe the best I've seen since Avatar.

Portions of this post were taken from my end of an online chat I had with Andi after seeing the movie. She mostly asked questions about my opinions and as a result I was able to frame my thoughts into a coherent order. (For her part, she thought the movie was just okay.) I'm willing to admit that I could be off about my interpretations of the story. In five years time, I might have a different perspective. In re-reading this, my reaction still feels impulsive and maybe a little reactionary to me, even though I waited several days before writing about it. Still, some movies just make you feel a certain way.

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