Life of Pi (Ang Lee, 2012)

Life of Pi

I try not to put spoilers in these posts but I will, despite avoiding direct description, inevitably give away key ‘surprises’ here; it is essential in describing why I detest this film so much, regardless that so many tip it for Oscar success (though Titanic won a shedload of Oscars, and that’s a truly terrible movie). So look away now if you intend watching it…

This was adapted from a very successful and ‘much loved’ book. Having not read that book means I don’t know if my problem is with the adaptation or the original but I suspect it is the material that I find offensive – the film is well acted and beautifully made.

It starts off with a Caucasian Canadian visiting Pi, an Indian immigrant, having been told in India that Pi’s story is a ‘proof of god’. This immediately rubbed me up the wrong way. I’m an atheist and, while I’m happy to live and let live, claims of ‘proofs’ of god are absurd. Religious faith is necessarily absent of proof. Otherwise there wouldn’t be multiplicities of faiths, or agnosticism and atheism.

Despite this, I sat back and attempted to go with the film. For one thing, this might only be the opinion of the character, and not the message of the film. And, for another, if the film is not preaching at me, I can exercise the ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ and just enjoy the fantasy. After all, Lord of the Rings is a Christian allegory, and that never bothered me. And so Pi began to tell his story, how he grew up in his father’s zoo, how he threw himself into each and every religious faith he encountered and how the zoo acquired a Bengal tiger named, by an administrative blunder, Richard Parker.

When Pi was a teenager, his father announced that the family were emigrating to Canada, taking the animals to sell as they began their new life. En route, the ship is wrecked in a storm, killing his family, the crew and almost all the animals and leaving Pi alone, almost, on a lifeboat – alone except for a few animals, including Richard Parker. Pi takes his ‘miraculous’ survival as a sign from God, never mind that the storm killed everyone else and prays for rescue. This kind of selfish view of God’s interest in your own personal salvation regardless of others always annoys me but, again, it is Pi’s story and he continues to tell it.

The scenes of how Pi and the tiger manage to co-exist on lifeboat and improvised raft are excellently constructed and, very nearly, convincing for large periods. It does take a turn into the fantastical a few times but, ok, I get that this is Pi’s story and am willing to roll with it.

It is when the ‘reveal’ comes (and this is the spoilery bit) that I really hated this film. It turns out that Pi’s fantasy was constructed to avoid thinking about a terrible reality. If that were as far as it went, I’d be perfectly happy as anyone can surely agree that people sometimes find terrible truths impossible to face; but the film seems to go much, much further. This is Pi’s ‘proof of god’. It seems (and the film seems to approve of Pi’s claim) that whatever you want to believe has an equal claim to factual accuracy. For anyone who cares about honesty, this is surely ethical anathema. There are consequences to false beliefs, sometimes very serious ones, and it is simply not ok to approach important questions with an approach from the outset that dismisses the claims of reality.

So, wonderfully acted and shot but ethically repellent to me. A beautifully made bag of shite.

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