Your Film Reviews, Life of Pi

Apr 6, 2013


Discussion by: Stephen of Wimbledon

Hi,

I was recently dragged to a screening of the film Life of Pi (in 3D).

 

In an early scene the main character says he will tell a story that will make us believe in god.

 

I have very strong views, but before I share them: If you've seen the film, what did you think?

 

Peace.

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19 comments on “Your Film Reviews, Life of Pi

  • 1
    Kim Probable says:

    My point of view comes from the book, which went into a little more detail.

    At the conclusion of the story of the shipwreck and his trial with the tiger, the insurance guys sent by the owners of the ship are talking with one another. They speculate that all the animals on board represent people instead. The orangutan is his mother, for example. (When I told my husband this story, he pointed out that Pi had to be the tiger, and the part where he debates saving Richard Parker must represent an internal struggle over the option of suicide – I totally missed that, but thought it was really neat.)

    They push him for the “true” story and Pi relays one of a few people being on board the lifeboat and the horrible things that happen. Then he asks which is the better story. They say the one with the tiger. And he says, “So it is with god.”

    My interpretation is that people want to believe in a god because it makes for a better story. I’ve seen many people claim that life is meaningless without a god, so for them, maybe they need that idea to find value. It’s sad, because life is pretty interesting without deities, and they’re really missing out.



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  • 2
    canadian_right says:

    I thought it was a wonderful fantasy. It is about a boy that went through the most horrible experience ever, and made up a wondrous, if still dangerous, fantasy to shield himself from the truth. Near the end of the movie it is explicitly stated that certain animals map onto certain people, who did certain vile acts.

    One of the characters may have said “this story will make you believe in god”, but that is not what the movie is trying to do. It showing how one young man dealt with the death of his family.

    Now for a straightforward movie review: excellent visuals, a compelling though fantastic story, uses some clunky literary devices, interesting characters, but overall a fine visual feast. 3.5 stars out of five.



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  • The “alternative” explanation given near the end of the film, certainly rescued the film from the mire of soppiness, in my opinion. There’s no way my mind could accommodate the fantasy version, so I was very happy to be able to be swept away by the visuals once I knew that it was not meant to be taken seriously. Many claim that the real version of events spoilt the film, but I like my stories to be grounded in reality.



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  • Havent seen the film, but I read the plot line, and read that Obama called it “an elegant proof of God”. Made me think, what the hell, it seems to do quite the contrary – “people make up stuff to cope better”. Calling this a proof is lunacy.



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  • It might be a subtle message that belief in god is a convenient myth, like that good people go to heaven and don’t really die.

    Sounds like excellent political speak from Obama. By complimenting the movie as an elegant proof of god he’s condemning with faint praise. Normally politicians instinctively attempt to pitch their personal appeal as broadly as possible by saying contradictory things to opposing classes of voters. A classic symptom of psychopathy. Speaking with forked tongue, relying on most people being to self-absorbed or stupid to notice.. In this case he’s saying the same thing to everyone but the religious and the non-religious can take different meanings from his remarks.

    The movie really was elegant. Especially the CGI. The visual effects of phosphorescence was great. Super-realistic.

    Great movie for kids, with caution because the tiger is very scary. At least 1 child left the cinema and missed out on seeing that the tiger really wasn’t so bad after all. Probably will have nightmares about big cats for weeks.



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  • 6
    Dublin-atheist says:

    Id would watch it but as far as it bringing me closer to “god” fuck that , lord of the rings was a great film but I still don’t believe in elfs, fairys, gobblins, please!
    we shouldn’t be having this discussion.



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  • 7
    QuestioningKat says:

    I saw the 3D version several months ago and considered writing a post here, but couldn’t wait to write something about it and needed to get it quickly off my mind. I wrote some lengthy post somewhere on the internet…somewhere…and kept a copy of what I wrote. I’m not sure where or what I actually posted – partial or the entire thing. I was highly disappointed by the premise of the movie. I felt it played into the stereotypical view of nonbelievers having no gratitude, nor emotional depth experiencing the world.

    Here it is:

    Yes F. Only an agnostic will see a dichotomy and need to choose between the two views. A fearful timid boy who after experiencing the loss of family in a horrendous way needed to endure further hardships being on a boat with repugnant killer set upon looking out for his own survival. He triumphed over the situation and emerged as a fearless “tiger.”

    One story is likely a factual account while the other is allegorical. The boy was free to create his own meaning and sense of the events. Though the evidence was destroyed, the literal truth existed although the boy internalized it differently. Given that, the question becomes whether or not you can appreciate life and find meaning without the view of God.

    This story (the movie) illustrates the false dichotomy that we human have created over time. “Which story do you prefer?” is asked. It sets up a situation in which the choice of God is the only one with meaning. The mother incorrectly comments that reason tells us about the outside world but does not reveal what is within. It presents a view that reason will help us survive but without acknowledging God there cannot be meaning and a feeling of connection to all of life.

    Theists for too long have painted the non-believer as lacking meaning in life and being cold and mechanical. The insurance agents asked for the truth, but nothing should stop them from admiring the beauty of jellyfish dancing in the ocean. Nothing stops the non-believer from seeing life as it is and feeling a strong sense of connection to all of life knowing that we are made of the same star dust. An atheist can enjoy a good story or fantasy just like anybody else. A nonbeliever can look into the eyes of a chimpanzee and see our relatedness, physically, emotionally and further acknowledge our common ancestry.

    For too long people have tied gratitude, connectedness, goodness, joy, and deep love to God. I get a sense that the author also shares this limiting view.

    Most of us prefer a fantastical story over the cut and dry facts even if they are horrific. Fantasy is fun and makes great stories. It soothes us after traumatic circumstances. It makes right what has been wrong by rewriting or reframing the situation into a new story. Theists value personal experience as truth. Non believers will question the facts of the situation. Most people would prefer a story of a lantern lit boat taking souls across a wide river to an afterlife on the other side. Many of us would rather think of a glorious heaven than see a life that suddenly ends with no continuation.

    I would now add that such is the nature of the believer. The movie should be categorized as New Age.



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  • The intended moral of the story seemed to be self-deception is a good idea if the truth is too hard to deal with, or even just because it’s fun, as in accepting several contradicting religions in the beginning of the movie. Pi’s father has the better message; he tells it straight: “One who believes in everything believes in nothing”, or something to that effect. Such wise words, and then the movie go on to try and negate them. It kind of falls flat because a keen grasp on harsh reality is exactly what saves Pi’s life during his time in the life boat. Oh, and I usually don’t notice these things, but the teleporting goat annoyed the hell out of me.



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  • 10
    Pauly01 says:

    I saw the movie. Very confusing , fully of metaphors and meaning , I just couldn’t be arsed putting it all together though. I mean why would the lead character make up such a story about animals. I didn’t get the necessity , why not just tell it as it was. Can’t see his motivations? , Didn’t make sense…..

    Kind of like this post.

    Anyway it’s a 3/5 movie , it is gorgeous to look at.

    Why would this movie make you believe in God though, as already noted its ironically a testimony to non-belief. Basically in times of stress and trial the mind constructs an irrational view of the world in order to survive.

    And it also runs the problem because the precedent is set how can we derive meaning from the reality of what happened when we don’t know where the fantasy and mind ramblings end. Can’t see how people think this is Godly in anyway.



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  • 11
    Anti-theist preacher says:

    I have read the book and have not yet seen the movie.. I really loved the book and cannot remember it giving me a sense of there being a god .. It was a good read and that’s about it..



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  • 12
    jimbobjim says:

    I preferred the book. I think the statement, about a story “that will make you believe in God” wasn’t really saying this was an apologetic film/book but rather Hyperbole and saying “this story is going to be amazing”. The other thing to note was that statement wasn’t about the book/film but was a comment by one of the character (Pi) to say that his story is amazing.

    Don’t read too much into it.



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  • I did not know anything about this movie other than the digital graphics were stunning, and I’m a visual kind of guy, so I watched. What I was left with was great entertainment and then “are you fkin’ kidding me, ALL of this plays into the fantasy game, ALL of it. It set me up for the Great Hope. The Big Maybe. The What If. Or the Great Could Be. I was so pissed at being manipulated, and incredible propaganda it is for setting up kids into a bullshit fantasy of how god ‘might’ actually work. More than anything it shows how easy it would be to shift childhood fantasy and wonder towards ‘wink wink’ see, could be, might happen. What a total crock of shit. Notice the zebra carcass & guts disappeared, and very common feature in fantasy for kids. It makes the unreal real and ties it to other power, a better place than life itself. Great fantasy, cheap manipulation of surviving the problems of reality.



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  • 14
    SaganTheCat says:

    shant read the commetns as i’d like to watch it or read the book but anyone claiming to tell me a story that will make me believe something insults me;.

    so i’ll be grumpy when i do watch it



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  • 15
    Stephen of Wimbledon says:

    Thanks for your comments, which I found very interesting.

    Spoiler Alert!

    Plot and themes are discussed in detail below.

    Although I was told ahead of time that the film had a religious theme I entered the theatre with an open mind and, as usual, I had no difficulty suspending my disbelief at incredible situations in order to enjoy a work of fiction.

    In the beginning we were treated to a homily on the main character’s youthful confusion over religion which quickly identified that – like so many religious tracts – those who wish for a supernatural realm are incapable of telling a straight story. We were getting layers within layers within layers for no discernible reason.

    In addition, the film was laced with poor attempts at intellect – like the tortuous aside on the main character’s name. Pi is both a mathematical constant and an irrational number, geddit? Then there was the line on organised religion obscuring the truth of spirituality – thus making them simultaneously true and not true.

    There were others, but these asides didn’t add anything to the main story and they all seemed to me to be redundant. The main conclusion of the first part of the film appeared to be (and I’m open to suggestions because I couldn’t maintain my interest for much of this – I can tell you that the Theatre had purple wallpaper) that the only true part of all religions is some kind of New Age interpretation of supernatural ‘spirituality’.

    I won’t review the different stories and ‘messages’ in the layers any further because that would be disingenuous, and a waste of your time. Suffice it to say that as the film reached down to a ‘deeper’ story-within-a-story-within (etc. ad nauseam) it left logic, rationality and truth further behind. Towards the end of the film this, it became clear, was a deliberate attempt to follow the main character, Pi, down through his dissent into near-insanity while alone in a lifeboat. But, at the time, it was just irritating.

    The main story is that Pi’s Father attempts to ship the family, and some zoo animals, across the Pacific, and the ship sinks. Pi and four of the animals make it to a lifeboat.

    There followed some stunning visuals that tended to rather obscure and detract from the film’s next ‘message’ on how alone and vulnerable we are and, thus, we have to work out a lot of stuff for ourselves and how little we understand of the Universe as we wonder at its vast beauty. Nature-red-in-tooth-and-claw reality was also thrust in our faces, I assume to remind us that we should use what little intellect we have to rise above ‘mere’ sense perception (yada, yadda, yadda).

    That said, even though I usually find no difficulty suspending my disbelief, my credulity was stretched to the absolute limit. You do not have to be a Zoo Keeper or Circus Animal Trainer to know that pretending that you survived alone in a lifeboat with a fully grown Royal Bengal Tiger for more than a week – when there is no food – is utter, unmitigated, tosh.

    This was, I assume, an attempt by the Author to show that belief in the supernatural requires a herculean effort of mental aberration – a complete departure, in fact, from the rational. Why he felt the need to point this out, thus completely undermining his own position (which assumes his position was to promote ‘spirituality’ – but see below), is anybody’s guess.

    By this point in the film I was feeling cheated – and I was mourning the loss of my hard-earned cash and a holiday afternoon.

    Then the film wrapped up with a brevity that managed to be both a relief, and to make it look like the film-makers ran out of budget. The film backs up through the (five?) main layers, closing each story and working it’s way back to the conclusion. When we get back to the top level – the Author is talking to Pi as a mature adult and family man who has spent most of the film telling us the stories in the film as autobiography mixed with allegories (see, I told you it was complicated for no good reason).

    The last few minutes are taken up with Pi explaining that he invented an allegory in order to deal with the horror of people killing each other, including his Mother, to survive in a lifeboat replacing people in the story with animals. Thus there are two main stories: An allegory of how a boy survived with wild animals in a lifeboat, and an underlying story of human weakness and moral iniquity – and survival – in the face of extreme adversity.

    “Which is the truth?”, asks the Author.

    “Which do you prefer?” responds Pi.

    WHAT! (I hear you cry) They ploughed their way through two hours of turgid pseudo-intellectual claptrap to tell you that the big story is that believing in the supernatural is all down to which story you find the prettiest?! THAT’S IT?!

    Yes.

    I know, it’s a really crap payoff.

    Pi was supposedly at sea for over 200 days, suffered many privations and witnessed horrendous acts of depravity – all while mourning the loss of his family. But the story he made up to stop him completely losing his mind is the ‘true’ story because it’s cute.

    If you find anyone telling you that Life of Pi is a story designed to make people believe in anything supernatural – like a god or a ‘spiritual’ dimension – you can tell them from me they weren’t watching it closely enough.

    Life of Pi, for anyone actually awake from beginning to end (and you don’t have to be particularly alert, as noted above), is a work of fiction that led me to understand that religions twist and confuse a limited array of facts into stories in the most ridiculous, drawn-out and tortuous ways in order to make us believe their fatuous conclusions are true.

    Furthermore, I learned that: Religions ask us to suspend our disbelief in order to make their fantasy stories pretty and superficially tenable, and they add pseudo-intellectual trappings in order to pretend they employed mental acuity. They then have the effrontery to tell us that their stories are the better ones because they’re ‘prettier’ than reality.

    I cannot tell you whether that was what the Author intended.

    However, this is not a film (and I’m told it is a good representation of the book) for atheists and agnostics.

    My advice is: If you are an atheist or agnostic (or both) capable of logical thought and of being able to judge facts don’t waste your money and time on Life of Pi. This film is not for you – you’ll find it, by turns, tedious and extremely annoying.

    But do encourage religious friends to see it. I guarantee that many will find affirmation of their spiritual feelings within it and completely miss its core absurdity.

    Peace.



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  • 16
    Pauly01 says:

    Stephen

    I disagree with you when you say atheists could not find this movie interesting. It stands as a tale of fantasy. What’s not in doubt is that the lead character suffered a great deal and in his pain and suffering he invented a story , so that he could come to terms with what happened. The lead makes no bones about his religiosity and fantasy construction is a common theme in religion. I assume his since of spirituality grew as he survived his hardship. Another common theme in religion , ‘we must be thankful when we have survived great hardships’ and of course it prompts the feeling of being blessed in someway because of the survival , another strong theme in religion.

    But in fairness to the movie it does not totally hoodwink us , it makes it very clear that the necessity to invent such a fantasy was born in desperation , the brutality of the murder of his loved ones is a reality and relates to materialistic events and is a testimony to a brutal world , that brutality being played out everyday , recognized by Darwin and anyone who cared to look at what nature and this life is based on ; selfish gain and competition. His father was a reasonable man and warned the lead to beware of religion , and the real truth and reason for this young mans survival was his unyielding thirst and motivation to survive.

    So not all bad

    Paul
    In reply to #15 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

    Thanks for your comments, which I found very interesting.



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  • 17
    Stephen of Wimbledon says:

    In reply to #16 by Pauly01:

    Hi Pauly01,

    Many thanks for your response. My review is unapologetically partisan, it is inevitable that someone (perhaps more than one) will disagree.

    I have no difficulty with the fact that the story revolves around a fantasy borne out of mental exhaustion which, in turn, was founded in a stressful situation.

    … his [sense] of spirituality grew as he survived his hardship … ‘we must be thankful when we have survived great hardships’ and of course it prompts the feeling of being blessed in some way …

    This is indeed a common, and tired, old tactic of religion. But Life of Pi is more ambitious, Pi’s Father even has a little speech to try and convince us that Pi is going to come to religion through rational thought.

    … the movie it does not totally hoodwink us …

    I’m not claiming that it does, I’m only saying that the film makes a claim then fails to deliver on that claim. Okay, I’m also saying that the plot, characterisations, structure, themes and many other aspects are rubbish – but it’s the failure to even make a good fist of its main claim that gets my goat.

    … [the movie] makes it very clear that the necessity to invent such a fantasy was born in desperation , the brutality of the murder of his loved ones is a reality and relates to materialistic events and is a testimony to a brutal world …

    It’s tough out there. You’ll get no argument from me on that point.

    … that brutality being played out everyday , recognized by Darwin and anyone who cared to look at what nature and this life is based on ; selfish gain and competition. His father was a reasonable man and warned the lead to beware of religion …

    Again, no argument there.

    … the real truth and reason for this young mans survival was his unyielding thirst and motivation to survive.

    That’s not in the film I saw. In the Life of Pi that I saw Pi survives by escaping into fantasy in order to run away from the real World. There’s nothing wrong with running away when danger threatens – it is probably the reason we are bipedal.

    But there is a big difference between the better part of valour when the occasion demands, and living in fear. Pi asks us to accept that a tactic for short term survival (displacement), is reasonable as the foundation for a religious life. Worse, it claims this on the basis that displacement provides us with fantasies that are pretty.

    Even the usual theists argument that believing in something by pretending to know things you don’t know is better than living with reality, it seems to me, is better than Pi’s; believe in my brain-addled fantasy because it’s prettier than reality!

    Peace.



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  • 18
    Zeuglodon says:

    I haven’t watched the film, but I have read the book, and what’s particularly interesting (and irritating) is how atheism and agnosticism are dealt with. What I found interesting was how the narrator assumes that atheists are secretly religious in their own way and will have a deathbed conversion near the end, but that agnostics are especially deserving of contempt and will deny unto the last that a religious experience is anything but the brain failing.

    Given my own experiences, I’d have put it the other way around. The agonistics tend to be the ones who seem to be po-religious and who are probably more likely to have a deathbed conversion, whereas atheists would insist that supposedly divine experiences are actually more mundane ones. So, no marks out of five for the accuracy of his portrayal here.

    What I found more disturbing was how the narrator treated both sides. Atheists were treated extremely patronizingly, essentially with the view that they were really on the theists’ side and would come around during a deathbed conversion. The atheist in question says things such as “reason is my prophet” and more or less insinuates that his atheism was based on the fact that “God” did not cure him when he was ill, ergo gods don’t exist (which pretty much is an unsound argument as it stands, because it could only rule out certain kinds of gods). The narrator claims his words are “bleak” and compares them to a “disease”, before saying later that he likes atheists because “atheists are my brothers and sisters of a different faith, and every word they speak speaks of faith. Like me, they go as far as the legs of reason will carry them – and then they leap.” I found this not just factually wrong, but ethically dubious to claim (he’s either promoting ignorance or denying the reality), suggestive of false modesty (essentially saying he’s a humble believer who knows atheists are secretly in denial), and uninformed about the difference between faith and reason (Quine’s quote about reasonable prior expectations comes to mind here).

    The agnostics fare even worse. He openly chastises them for exercising doubt without coming to a conclusion, the implication being that either you come up with a definite answer on religion or you are irritating at best (he admits they get “stuck in my craw” and his contempt is barely concealed throughout). During the chapter on deathbed conversions, he calls them “beholden to dry, yeastless factuality”, says they “lack imagination and miss the better story”, and as an example imagines one explaining a deathbed experience as brain failure. As proof that doubt is occasionally permissible, he says that if it’s good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for him (“rightly are the simple so-called”, as Hitchens would probably quip). It’s hard to read these lines without comparing the narrator to a New Age thinker on a drug high:

    “Dude, I’ve seen amazing things that make me feel really good, and I don’t prejudge them, unlike you with your boring facts and neuroscience! Oh yeah, and you’ve seen them too, but you’re just in denial and you’ll die denying it, unlike those cool dudes over there who don’t even believe me.”

    That’s about as intellectual as it gets, when you think about it.

    I enjoyed the rest of the book as entertainment and escapism – albeit as bizarre entertainment, and mostly because I like animals – but don’t expect to learn much about its religious points that you couldn’t already guess. I think anyone caught recycling such stupid tropes against atheists and agnostics has given up any pretence of convincing me that they’ve got a case worth hearing, as far as I’m concerned.



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  • 19
    Stephen of Wimbledon says:

    In reply to #18 by Zeuglodon:

    Thanks Zeuglodon.

    I haven’t watched the film, but I have read the book, and what’s particularly interesting (and irritating) is how atheism and agnosticism are dealt with. What I found interesting was how the narrator assumes that atheists are secretly religious in their own way …

    As I recall, perhaps imperfectly, there was only one mention of Atheists in the film.and it was a simple assertion along the lines of atheism being just another religion. An annoying characterisation – that is as far from the truth as the theist talking can make it – just seemed like par for the course.

    What I found more disturbing was how the narrator treated both sides. Atheists were treated extremely patronizingly, essentially with the view that they were really on the theists’ side and would come around during a deathbed conversion.

    In the film this idea was being discussed in the context of Pi’s childhood misinterpretation of what religions are, never mind atheism – which is why I let it pass.

    The Narrator claims [the Atheist’s] words are “bleak” and compares them to a “disease”, before saying later … “Like me, they go as far as the legs of reason will carry them – and then they leap.”

    There doesn’t seem to be much we can do about misrepresentation in the Media – it’s not as if religions are treated all that differently.

    The agnostics fare even worse … [Pi] says they “lack imagination and miss the better story”, and as an example imagines one explaining a deathbed experience as brain failure

    This would seem to be the place where the film got its; ‘there are prettier fantasies in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy’ nonsense.

    That’s about as intellectual as it gets, when you think about it … anyone caught recycling such stupid tropes against atheists and agnostics has given up any pretence of convincing me that they’ve got a case worth hearing, as far as I’m concerned.

    That makes two of us.

    Peace.



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