Monday, February 18, 2013

"Life Of Pi": Confounding Universal Mysteries

In "Life of Pi," directed by Ang Lee and based on the novel by Yann Martel, Pi Patel, a professor in Montreal, is telling a harrowing story of survival from his youth to a Canadian journalist, who has been told prior to the interview that the tale "will make you believe in God." The son of an Indian zoo keeper, young Pi embraces Hinduism, Christianity and Islam, while his rationalist father warns him against believing in everything. His father decides to take the family, along with the zoo animals, whom he intends to sell, to Canada on a freighter. The freighter is wrecked in a storm, and Pi ends up on a raft with a tiger whose magnificence is due to the wonders of digital imaging. The movie is also stunningly beautiful in its depiction of the sea and nature's creatures.

Through ingenuity, compassion and determination, Pi tames the tiger–an accomplishment that the movie depends upon but bothered this reviewer, who kept thinking that the lad would have been the tiger's lunch within a minute. But since this film is a parable, one must not be such a bloody-minded literalist. The parable aspect, though, is also problematic. The main character's spirituality is a constant undercurrent; for example, Pi feels that the meal of a fish was divinely sent. But the spiritual message is ultimately vague. Was Pi's survival brought about through divine benevolence? What can one say, then, about the rest of his family, who perished in the storm? Does the journalist now believe in God? In confronting universal mysteries, "Life of Pi" confounds more than it illuminates. Or are universal mysteries meant to be confounding, as well as the narratives we attempt as explanations?

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