“Don’t fear god,
Don’t worry about death;
What is good is easy to get, and
What is terrible is easy to endure.” – Epicurus, The four-part cure
“Illegitimi non carborundum” – Anon.
Happy New Year! (I know, I’m a bit late.) If you’re like everyone else, your year has probably had its share of wins and losses, and 2013 will challenge you once more to find the balance between looking ahead with hope and making peace with where you are now. Amor fati.
New Year’s Day seemed like a good day to think about grand themes, one’s place in the universe, etc. It was also a good day to go to the movies.
I wasn’t sure what to see. I thought about watching Skyfall again. It has Scottish highlands, a beautiful, smart, flawed heroine, explosions, and Daniel Craig. One can’t really have too much Daniel Craig. But a new year seemed to demand something, well, new.
Silver Linings Playbook has been getting good reviews, but what’s more depressing than a rom-com, unless it’s a rom-com with touches of Hollywood style realism? Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper struggling to find love? Ugh, no thanks.
As much as I’ve enjoyed Quentin Tarantino films in the past, I’m currently wondering about the roots of his obsession with revenge, and whether he chose to tell his most recent story against the backdrop of slavery for stylistic or moral reasons. Pass.
Les Miserables was on the table, but I wasn’t sure I was in the mood to listen to two hours of show tunes sung directly at the camera by a bunch of people who don’t normally sing. To quote Slate magazine, “There are very few performers who can pull off the trick of singing vocally demanding, hyperdramatic solos while a movie camera inspects their nostrils.” But it’s based on a classic novel about the French Revolution, right? So, maybe…mmm, no.
That left me with Life of Pi. Dramatic, inspirational story? Check. A director (Ang Lee) with impeccable credentials? Check. Good rating on Rotten Tomatoes (89%)? Check. Oh, it’s in 3D – cool!
You’ve probably read the book. Everyone did when it won the Man Booker prize in 2002. It has a lot of haters but I enjoyed its blend of philosophy and imaginative storytelling. If anyone had told me at the time that someone was adapting the book for film, I would have said, “Good luck.” Fortunately ten years later, along came Ang Lee and some astounding computer technology.
Yann Martel has referred to the movie as a “companion piece” to his book, and I think that’s right. It’s like an illustrated book come to life (there should be a pop-up book!) – nothing is lost from the original, and the visual imagery adds a unique dimension.
The 3D effects were fun after I got over my initial disoriented, headache-y feeling. 3D isn’t really more “realistic” than conventional photography. It’s heightened realism, and Ang Lee’s use of colour and light lends a painterly, children’s book quality to many of the scenes. If Maxfield Parrish had made a movie, it would be Life of Pi.
Despite the charm of Irrfan Khan as the adult Pi, I found the framing device clunky, as many readers found the philosophical passages of the novel. But in the movie as in the book, once that kid was thrown into a lifeboat with a tiger, I was hooked. Brutal death, sunburn, storms, sharks and flying fish, man-eating islands and thirst and hunger and an inscrutable cat who won’t make friends – it’s a dramatic survival story realized with stunning visual poetry.
Everyone’s said it, and I’ll say it again: That CGI tiger is amazing. There was not one moment when I did not find Richard Parker convincing as a real tiger. More real, in fact, than Rafe Spall as the writer who annoyingly explains, “So, the zebra is…” in a Coles Notes style summing up at the end of the film. So the emotional climax between Pi and Richard Parker worked for me – I might have cried. I forget, okay?
Life of Pi didn’t make me believe in God, (as the movie claims Pi’s story will) but I was thinking about the film days later, which is a nice change from most movies where the emotional impact bounces off as you exit the theatre like a blob of grease hitting a squirt of Dawn dishwashing soap. I would see it again for the gorgeous visuals alone – all those exotic animals and saturated colours are a two hour vacation from a dull winter day. I wonder if you will have some of the same questions I did after seeing it?
Can you really find happiness just by telling your story in a different way? How do you find the balance between facing reality and maintaining hope? “To look out with idle hope is tantamount to dreaming one’s life away,” says Pi. But in the words of Marcel Proust, “If we are to make reality endurable, we must all nourish a fantasy or two.”
So, I wish good things to you in 2013. And if your dreams elude you and there’s a tiger in your lifeboat, I hope that you find a way to paddle on, and to tell your story with beauty and grace.