Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"God is the Better Story ... "

“Life of Pi,” film by Ang Lee, 2012

I heard this film once described as a very long screen-saver and I had to see it.  After all, what could be more beguiling than the artificially bright colors of an exotic and long computer visual?  Well, this movie for one.

The visuals in "Pi" are OK, but just as the overwhelming awareness of computer technology dampens even a visually better film like ‘Avatar,’ this one can’t seem to escape the cute animal syndrome, bathed in phosphorescent luminosity and whaleness as it is.  Zoos are actually not cute, nor is taking wild animals to be sold. (see review of “In Fear of an Animal Planet,” below)

This film concerns a bright and likable Indian boy named “Piscine” Patel (the story was written by a Catholic French Canadian evidently) who changed his name to “Pi” to avoid being called ‘Pissing.”  He lives in Pondicherry, a Tamil town in India on the western tip of the country, a town once dominated by the French.  Since “Slumdog Millionaire,” India has slowly grown its own presence in Western film outside Bollywood – ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,’ ‘Darjeeling Ltd,’ ‘Eat Pray Love’  – mostly depicting it as a charming, funky place.  However, 'Slumdog' was a virtual piece of Soviet propaganda about poverty compared to the rest.

‘Life of Pi” is the most conservative film of the bunch.  It is saturated in religion and visual unreality.  It is the story of a titanic Ark shipwreck and the Ark lifeboat that survives – with Pi and a Bengal tiger on-board, as told to a reporter in Montreal.  Lets go to the CGI tiger, exhibit number 1, named ‘Richard Parker.’  Pi and 'Parker' live on a lifeboat that never shows the blood or bones of a dead orangutan, a zebra or a hyena; no tiger shit; or fish bones or scratches.  A tiger that can’t seem to get up on the slipperiest canvas cover in history, even from a bench a foot below it.  A boat that gets half-filled with water and never sinks lower.  Pi falls in a seething ocean a number of times and always manages to come up right next to it.  Meer Kats inhabit venus-flytrap islands shaped like Egyptian sarcophaguses full of taro root.  And yes, this tiny boat floats all the way from the Marianas Trench above the Phillipines to Mexico.  This is truly a children’s story, and Pi a modern Gunga Din.  So be it.  Let it join ‘The Jungle Book’ or “The Lion King.”

Yet it is structured as some kind of profound pop philosophy masterpiece.   You see Pi is an interfaith fan of Hinduism, Christianity and Islam.  Unlike his rational father (who drowned), Pi loves Christ and Vishnu and prays to Mecca.  He wants to be baptized.  He tells the reporter – and this is the line that is repeated several times – that his story of survival on the boat will ‘make you believe in God.’  And the key line of dialog at the end – which the religious reviewers try to ignore, is “So it goes with God.”  As in, which story of life do you prefer – the miserable, sad one – or the magnificent heroic one?  As one person joked, “This movie will make you believe in God the same way that Skittles will make you believe in rainbows.” (Skittles, if you don't know, is a candy that features rainbows in its advertising.)

The movie is a saccharine failure as a religious film, although religious or 'spiritual' people might miss that.  Perhaps instead of God the tiger is the real central character.  Parker walks away from Pi into the Mexican jungle at the end of the film without looking back.  Pi thought he’d made a connection with the tiger, which he says, “kept him alive.”  He gave him fish and fresh water.  But according to the tiger, he hadn’t made a connection.  After all, the tiger had been stuck in a zoo, then shoved in the hold of a cargo ship to be sold, then dumped into the ocean to starve.  I’d say getting into the jungle as fast as he could would make sense, Gunga Din or no Gunga Din.

So who or what is the tiger – because obviously it is not a real tiger.  Nature?    Some people take it as such.  Nature doesn’t give a shit about humans, as this CGI tiger indicates.  And humans don’t really give a shit about nature, as the real treatment of Bengal tigers shows.  But since it is a CGI tiger, I don’t really know.  Real tigers don’t dance - they just go extinct.  In fact, the Bengal tiger is now down to 1,400 in India; 1,850 world-wide.  Perhaps CGI tigers are all we will have left.  That and cute animal screen-savers. This film will not have changed that one whit – in fact it will have just ignored it.

And I saw this movie at the Riverview Theater in Minneapolis, USA
Red Frog
July 10, 2013

P.S. – The Department of Natural Resource Extraction (DNR) in Minnesota just announced a 25% decline in our ‘tiger’ – the grey wolf.  This after 500 were shot or trapped out of a population of 3,000 in the hunting season last November, after the U.S. (under Obama) took the wolf off the endangered species list.  The bastards running the DNR, who are merely fronts for the lumber, mining and hunting industries, say this is ‘no problem.’  However, killing lead members of a pack, or pregnant females can lead to pack decimation BEYOND the mere number killed in the hunt, which could account for the other 250 - as a total of 750 wolves died last year.  The criminal killers at the DNR and the Democratic / Republican parties have decreed another wolf season this November. 

Perhaps we can turn wolves into screen savers?  Or silk screen them on sweat shirts?  Save the wolves!

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