Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Life of Pi

Well, here I am, sleepy but sleepless. So I’m sitting on my bed, wearing my winter coat on top of my pajamas because my blanket doesn’t keep my upper body warm and allow me to type on my laptop at the same time. They really should invent arm sleeves in comforters in order to address this epidemic (Yes, it’s an epidemic).

I watched the movie Life of Pi the other day and I scoured the interwebs for a review that does justice to the movie. I ended up disappointed; most of the reviews just gave a summary of the movie and the remaining handful gave a rating of ‘Great visual effects; but not too impressive.’

I disagreed: I found the movie poignant and the messages embedded within it powerful. Yes, there were times when the movie felt a little preachy, but you soon got over that and got lost in the story, itself. And as you found yourself stranded with a boy and a tiger in a boat with nothing but endless sea around you, you started to question your own morals, and your own strengths and weaknesses.

I had read the book earlier this year and it didn’t have the same impact – possibly because I have the attention span of a moth. I began reading the book with great enthusiasm for the first hundred pages, and then I started to fall asleep repeatedly after that. Finally, when I found out it was a fiction novel (the prologue misleads you into thinking it’s one of those based-on-a-true-story novels), I was pissed. I threw the book out the window hoping it hit someone on the head. When I saw the movie trailer, I was torn between paying money to watch a bad story and seeing pretty blue whales in 3d.

I succumbed and ending up watching the movie. At this point, if you haven’t seen the movie, you should stop reading because I’m going to over-analyze every aspect of the story. You should also stop reading this if you have a short attention span or if you are my mom. Excellent, now that I have no readers left, let us begin.

I loved Pi’s dad. He and I shared similar sentiments. As my favorite scene in the movie unfolded, when the family stood in front of the Ganges and set afloat diyas along with hundreds of other people, I felt a twinge of homesickness. I remembered my childhood when I had visited my great grandma in Allahabad and how the entire family had gone boating where the Ganga and Jamuna met in tumultuous conflict. Times were simpler back then and those childhood memories are replete with the kind of nostalgia an Instagram filter can only dream of.  And just as I was lulled into the old-world charm of comforting rituals and religion, Pi’s father snapped me out of it by saying “Don’t be fooled by the pretty lights.” It reminded me of how my own dad would declare “Religion is the opiate of the masses”, even as we walked through a crowded temple.

 Intermittently through the movie, the audience was reminded that they were going to find God. You can imagine my dry amusement at that line; I remember thinking: bring it on. Of course, none of the religious experiences that Pi went through made sense to me. Take for instance, when Pi went into that church and asked why God would choose to send his son into our imperfect world, and the answer given was: “Because He loves you.” That answer made me want to throw my seat at the theatre screen.

As the movie progressed, Pi experienced fantastical events that left you wondering if they were real or if he had found some shrooms in the survival kit and was now flying high. At the end of the movie, Pi offers a different explanation of the events that occurred – instead of boy and tiger, there were humans on the boat that ended up killing one another. The story is much darker, but the pessimists and realists of this world will hungrily grab onto the tassels of this sordid tale. On both accounts: be it the boy with the tiger or the boy with the humans, neither story can be proven. And either way, the end result of both stories is the same: a boy survives being stranded out at sea for 200 plus days.

And that’s when Pi poses us a question: if we had to choose, which story would we choose? Most of us would choose the story with the tiger because it is so magical. So it is with God, replies Pi – people choose to believe in God because it is the better story to tell.

I had to admit the analogy was pretty cool. And though it didn’t alter my own beliefs (fortunately, science can prove and disprove many things), it made me wonder if I were to be pushed to the limits that Pi was, would I have started believing in God?

Stephen Kelley, a film reviewer, puts it succinctly:

In time, as our hero’s life dwindles, his body and mind ravaged by starvation, the validity of his extraordinary account comes into question. The doubt jars – even if it has been whirring uncomfortably in the back of your mind. Why? Because this wouldn’t be a lie you watched; this would be a lie you lived.

Finally, let me end with the most poignant part of the movie for me: when Pi and Richard Parker, the tiger, finally reached shore. At this point, Pi and Richard Parker had been through hell and back together. Pi had saved Richard Parker and Richard Parker had also saved Pi. If this was a true Hindi movie, Pi and Richard Parker would have gotten married and an extravagant Bollywood dance number would ensue.

However, this was real life. And here’s where I truly appreciated the director’s commitment to staying true to the predatory nature of the tiger. Pi watches as Richard Parker strolls away, and he waits for the tiger to look back, just once, before he leaves for good. The tiger never does, and disappears forever. Pi is shattered – he can’t conceive how after being through so much together, the tiger could leave him with such indifference.

I was a mess at this point in the movie. As someone who doesn’t believe in God, I struggle often with the indifference of nature. Every major life event, be it good or bad, leaves this universe mostly unaffected: the sun still continues to rise in the east, unaware of our antics; and the oceans still churn out waves, oblivious to our pleasures and pain. With no God and the world so apathetic to your own life, who do you turn to for peace? I understood Pi’s pain: Richard Parker’s departure was quiet and unassuming, but he took with him Pi’s own peace and purpose.

But human beings, if anything, can adapt. If circumstances change, so does our purpose in life. We must adapt and we must continue, no matter what. For those who believe in God, may they find peace through Him. For those who don’t, may they find peace in themselves. And if you are ever left wondering whether your story has a happy ending or a sad one, just remember Pi’s last words in the movie:

That’s up to you to decide; it’s your story.

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