After watching Ang Lee grab an Oscar for best director on Sunday, I ventured into our local cinema to watch the film “Life of Pi”, even though I had read some bad reviews in The Guardian and New Yorker. I have to say as an art critic I loved the visual aspects of it, and as an atheist and writer I hated every self-congratulatory, self-righteous second of it all.
I knew the story because my brother Siavash had read the book by the Canadian author Yann Martel and due to my badgering spilled the beans about the ambiguous ending afterwards. Yet with the film there was no ambiguity to be found in the end, and we discover that the story had been made up just to entertain, this came as a welcoming surprise because I really couldn’t stomach a lesson in religious doubt and essence of faith. Yet, Yann Martel himself stated: “I’m happy it works so well as a film. Even if the ending is not as ambiguous as the book’s, the possibility that there might be another version of Pi’s story comes at you unexpectedly and raises the same important questions about truth, perception and belief.”
The story revolves around Pi who from the start is exploring his relationship with religions and faith in God. For him confusion never ceases as he is bombarded with different ideologies from every corner. So, I guess inevitably, he decides to practice all religions and believe in mighty forces watching over him. As is always the case with these kinds of stories, our protagonist finds out that only through knowing himself he can love God. I could almost hear Deepak Chopra shouting: “Every person is a God in embryo.”
Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian writes: “the film itself, despite some lovely images and those eyepopping effects, it is a shallow and self-important shaggy-dog story – or shaggy-tiger story – and I am bemused by the saucer-eyed critical responses it’s been getting.” I agree with his description, because the film’s special effects are amazing, and digital creation of the world Pi encounters is just breathtakingly beautiful, but the story lacks the oomph it needs and the double narration, even though great in literature, doesn’t come out well on the screen.
I have to state that I’m not a big fan of 3D, and all the things that were promised to us with renaissance of the technology has faded with sales of 3D television hitting rock bottom. I get headaches every time I watch these movies in cinema, and from my experience with televisions the glasses issue has made it tremendously hard to enjoy a movie. Life of Pi catering for this market, and the fact that all the effects in the movie were designs for the 3D experience really worries me about Ang Lee’s sense of judgement. Why would any director, let alone a celebrated one like Mr Lee decide to create a movie that cannot be enjoyed on DVD? Even if they release it as a normal HD the effects won’t be the same, so why?
From an artistic point of view no one can fault the movie. It is beguiling, mesmerizingly beautiful example of what digital art can do. There are colours and effects that are unmatched by any other film, and you are drawn into a world so hypnotic that you forget every scene has been created using softwares. I know if we look back at it in 10 years’ time we will laugh at ourselves for being so naïve, but for now we can enjoy it as an enticing spectacle and one that should not be missed as long as it is in the cinemas.
However, again the story, apart from the ending, really brings it down in my view. Obama in 2010 wrote a letter to Yann Martel in which he described the book as “an elegant proof of God, and the power of storytelling.” Obviously President Obama is not seeking scientific proof and is happy with fiction, however I cannot deny Mr Martel his power of storytelling, because he has written a book that is sold more than 10 million copies, and the fact that this book was rejected no less than five times by publishers, gives us all unpublished writers hope. As for the movie, I would suggest bringing your earplugs and you will have an experience of a lifetime.