It’s so beautiful.
Of course, everyone knew it was going to be beautiful, but that isn’t necessarily the same thing as good. So is it good? Yes! Of course, YMMV depending on your opinion of the book. I liked the book, so there you go. That said, I found the theosophical aspects of it to be silly rather than inspiring, and it certainly didn’t make me believe in god. What it did was let me feel Pi’s euphoria and most of all his terror at least as intensely as the book did, using every cinematic trick to show a world where beauty and danger are two sides of the same coin. You don’t need faith to love that kind of emotional experience.
That said, I’m getting kind of burnt out on 3D. Theatres here in New Zealand seem to favor really chunky 3D glasses that don’t sit right over my hipster frames, so I always end up leaving the movie with a sore nose and a headache. If you see this movie in 2D, I wouldn’t say you’re missing anything. I’m also kind of disappointed that I saw this at a chain cinema rather than an indie thinking it would be cheaper, and it turned out not to be. Obviously not a complaint against this movie—just something for any future Wellington moviegoers to keep in mind.
As a Brazilian Jew I should probably say something patriotic about Max and the Cats at this point, except that I haven’t actually read it. So, um, yeah.
And I’m sure someone a lot better qualified than me has already done a great job explaining why the argument put forward at the end of Life of Pi (both the book and movie) for why the story should make you believe in god doesn’t, um, hold water. But I’ll do a quick version here. I’ll have to paraphrase the argument, since my copy of the book is in a box somewhere in Texas, but it’s basically this:
You have two stories. Neither of them explains why the ship sank. Both of them explain what happened afterward. You can choose to believe either of them. Why not believe the one you prefer, even if it seems more unlikely?
So, Yann Martel and his mouthpiece Pi have set up a situation where both stories are tragic, but only one is leavened with beauty and adventure—the “atheistic” story, where the castaways are a group of humans who murder and eat each other, is just unremittingly dark and horrible. Of course, that’s not how atheists see the story of reality at all! For me, the beauty and majesty of life are on my side, part of nature, godless. On the other hand, there’s a lot to be repulsed by in the religious stories, like the idea of an omnipotent god who allows human suffering, and then insists on being worshiped as just and loving or he’ll condemn you to hell. Even if the evidence could go either way, I’d chose atheism!
But the evidence can not go either way. Many people who understand science (and I’m not claiming to be any sort of expert here) feel that science gives a much more complete and satisfying explanation of the universe than religion. It does, actually, answer the question of “why are we here”—the answer is “for no particular reason,” and there are plenty of people who are totally okay with that. I certainly am—I could go on a whole tangent about why, but I did say I’d keep this short. (I’m kinda failing already, but hey.)
Lastly, this is a work of fiction! Martel might as well say, believe in god if you prefer Star Trek: The Next Generation to the original series. Except for the occasional
asshole person who refuses to read any kind of fantasy under any circumstances, most people have no problem “believing” all kinds of obvious nonsense for a few hundred pages and then coming back to reality with their beliefs unchanged. A while ago I read an article somewhere (crediting fail, I know—sorry) about M. Night Shyamalan that made a brilliant point—an author or a director, for the purpose of their novel or film, is god; they control everything, and can perform miracles or not according to their own will. Believing that Richard Parker the tiger was Pi’s companion in the lifeboat doesn’t imply belief in god; it implies belief in Yann Martel and/or Ang Lee. And you don’t need faith for that.
Just to make it clear—the ideas in the last 3 paragraphs are not original to me, and could be fleshed out a lot more. I just wanted to give a quick overview in case anyone was interested. If I remember any specific piece I need to credit, (like the Shyamalan thing) I’ll come back and add the link. For more information on atheist/humanist philosophy, check out…well, just about any atheist blog or book ever. Greta Christina, Hemant Mehta, Richard Dawkins, Bertrand Russell…with the number of unbelievably talented writers who’ve already made these arguments over, and over, and over, and over, I’m going to try not to get into it too much.
Faith, in my view, isn’t necessary for anything. But the important point here is that it isn’t necessary for the enjoyment of this movie. You can sit back and be awed by the beauty of nature, by the human capacity to be inspired by it and the talent it took to convey this powerful story, first in print and now on screen. You can marvel at the technology that made all this possible, and see how far that technology still needs to go. You can spend two hours believing in a boy who shared a lifeboat with a tiger. You don’t need faith for that.