To receive 11 nominations from the Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Picture, is no small feat, and it won 4 awards, more than any other film this year (Best Director, Cinematography, Visual Effects and Original Score). How can a film receive so much praise, even elevating it to the level of "the miraculous?" For two reasons: first, it teaches us that miracles do exist; secondly, it teaches us the power of art. It's my interpretation that the entire story is an encoding for events occurring in India during the 1970s, but if the author were to put it in those terms, the historical, the economic, corruption, poverty, human suffering, his story, his experience, would become lost in the "sameness" of all the other stories which tell stories about that; translating the Indian government as "the ship of state" that sinks, and his sorrow at having to leave India behind doesn't convey a story to the audience, rather, it weaves a vivid, singular experience with which we can invest our own emotions and personalities to bond with the art in the perfect consummation of the spiritual and intellectual. In short, Ang Lee's Life Of Pi deserves each and every award.
|The reason it has taken me so long to get this review up is due to research efforts: not knowing much about Indian history, I have been studying a specific aspect presented in the film which I have been unable to confirm, even after consulting the original story, which leads us to a interesting problem I will elaborate upon below. Life Of Pi will be released on disc March 12 but you can watch it now at this link on Amazon.com. People either love or hate this film: if you enjoy the decoding we do on this blog, you will thoroughly enjoy the film; if you, or someone you know, only enjoys movies as "entertainment," they will not enjoy the film because, like Beasts Of the Southern Wild, it employs elements of magical realism but what many don't like is, at the end, the film decodes its own story: Pi supposedly turns the real, human survivors of the shipwreck into animals so he can better cope with what happened: the orangutan was Pi's mother, the zebra the French Cook kills to eat and use as bait is the sailor with the broken leg, and the hyena was the French Cook, killed by the tiger, Richard Parker, Pi himself; the animals in the boat (like the animals at his father's zoo, who he compares to hotel guests), are codes to decipher; as we begin to understand one code, we find more and more in the film needing to be decoded and deciphered.|
|Below I detail an possible alternate reading to the one I am offering, but I don't feel it's as strong. Usually, the ship symbolizes the "ship of state," but not always; even with a spiritual-based reading, we can still understand the ship in these terms as the ship of state of India sinking and that dislocating of Pi causes his spiritual journey; however, I feel understanding the ship in terms of the soul is more rewarding, so let's try that, especially since the boat crosses the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the ocean, so this moment is also the deepest part of the film. Given that the name of the ship is Tzimtzum, a Hebrew word referring to God and "concealment," (the way Richard Parker is concealed in the lifeboat), and Pi teaches Kabbalah at a university, this is most likely the fruitful reading. The idea of a passenger freight is rather like a hotel, and the point is made that a hotel is like a zoo (if you have seen Grand Hotel lately, you know what I mean). The freight, then, carries people along in general, however, Pi is special, and his life cannot be like everyone else's so he has to endure the shipwreck of life. The shattering of a vessel, then the repairing of that vessel, is a part of the process of God's plan (Tzimtzum) to make a person perfect, which is why audience members can identify with it because we have all been through varying degrees of purgation whether we acknowledge them or not. Pi initially enjoying the storm could be taken one of two ways, or both ways: one, sense he goes outside, he's capable of introspection where others are not (he can get outside of himself and look inside whereas the others stay inside); secondly, he first enjoys God's power displayed in the storm, thinking he is safe, but then realizes he is not safe from God's power when the giant wave washes over the ship, like the tail of the whale smashing his lifeboat later. The others surviving on the lifeboat could be said to be like God sifting the wheat, and disposing of the shaft, as each one slowly dies and only Richard Parker and Pi are left.|
So why does he find the tooth?
Georgia O'Keeffe, for example). The placement of the human tooth in the flower—and Pi deciding that the plants must be carniverous—leads us to the problems with relationships: they devour us. In forming a relationship with someone else—if it's at the wrong time in our life—they can consume us as we are consuming the good things that come from a relationship (the fun, security, love, friendship, intimacy, etc.) and that's why the plants are carnivorous, because it's Pi's own tooth he finds buried in the flower (and we only know it's his tooth because his tooth is chipped at the hospital; this could also be a reference to oral sex, but, again, the film doesn't go into that). There are two other elements we must explore regarding the island: the meerkats and Richard Parker running off the island.
|Please note how pale Pi's lips are, signifying he has no appetite, but this is when he discovers Richard Parker "hiding" or being "concealed" in the lifeboat. Again, this lifeboat, and the little raft Pi constructs for himself illustrates for us the Hebrew philosophy of Tzimtzum, the way the whale coming, and destroying Pi's food supply, might invoke the story of Jonah and the Whale from the Old Testament.|
But is this all Richard Parker symbolizes?
No, but to further answer this question, we have to analyze a different part of the film. What was the cause for Santosh taking his family from India? Ambiguously, the only answer is the politics of Mrs. Gandhi; it seems, however, there was a war taking place with the French, and a “day of reprisals” that disrupted Indian politics. I will be the first to admit I don't know much about the history of India, but my efforts to research this aspect has failed to bear fruit, which is interesting in and of itself. If there wasn't a war going on with the French in the 1970s when the film takes place, what is Pi talking about?
A cultural war.
We see Pi reading books, Dostoevsky and Albert Camus' The Stranger. Even though Dostoevsky is Russian, and Camus was French-Algerian, we can say that Pi is feeling the inner-dichotomy between the East (India) and West (Europe and America) and that war Pi mentions might be more this war of ideas and lifestyle (it's easier to run a business in the capitalist west so Santosh moves the family to the west) than a war with guns and explosives, but that doesn't mean it isn't a real war, and this leads us to Pi's uncle swimming in the Piscine Molitor swimming pool in France, because Pi's uncle swimming in the French pool is like Pi swimming in the pool of water on the floating island; whereas Pi's swim signifies his relationship with a woman, Pi's uncle swim signifies his relationship with the west and Western Ideas and identity, and him wanting Pi to be “westernized” instead of Indian, so they name him after the pool, which leads us to the real conflict between Pi's mother and the French Cook (Gerard Depardieu) over the sausage.
|This is possibly the second reference to Alfred Hitchcock's Oscar nominated film Lifeboat of 1944 (the first being in a film no one saw, Nazis At the Center Of the Earth, which I, in my strange taste for films, thoroughly enjoyed because the theories were so anti-socialist and it was so anti-Obamacare, but also because so many parts of the film were so bad it was a great laugh! Please see The Coming Of the 1000 Year Reich & Zombies: Nazis At the Center Of the Earth for more). Why would it be possible for Life Of Pi to be referencing this long-forgotten film? Lifeboat is about English citizens on a boat sank by a German U-boat, and a German soldier gets rescued by them and plans on turning them over as POWs to a German submarine, but they kill him instead; this same kind of struggle exists in Life Of Pi between Pi and Richard Parker, and most of the film—like Lifeboat—takes place on a lifeboat, but further similarities is probably up to individual viewers to determine. As mentioned, I think this is probably a pro-socialist film because the ideas of the capitalist west being associated with his father, a meat-eater, and hence, Richard Parker, is in line with films associating capitalists with vampires (such as Gangster Squad, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter and Dark Shadows, just to name a few). As a capitalist, for example, I would correlate the Bengal tiger Richard Parker to the Nazi socialists because it was the Nazis who hunted down the Jews and tore them to pieces for gold teeth and using their skins for lamp shades, as well as starting World War II in the cause for world domination; socialists, of course, would deny this and even deny that the Nazis were socialists, which is highly convenient for them. Again, depending on your own views of politics, film and culture, will determine how—if at all—you correlate Life Of Pi and Hitchcock's Lifeboat.|
|Something to consider is that the name given to the tiger Richard Parker, all ready has many associations with shipwreck, which the author was undoubtedly playing with in choosing the name Richard Parker. For example, in Edgar Allan Poe's 1838 short story The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, a character named Richard Parker convinces other members of a shipwrecked boat that one of them must die in order to sustain the others, so he is picked through the drawing of lots and loses to become the "sacrificial victim."|
|Great works of art invoke other great works of art, and the idea of “eating a rat” leads us to another potential reference Life Of Pi makes: Pulp Fiction, when Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent (John Travolta) are in a diner and Vincent eats sausage (like the French Cook) and tries to get Jules to try some, and Jules replies that sewer rat could taste like pumpkin pie but he would never know because he wouldn't eat the filthy thing. In its separation between those led by ideals and those bound to the earth by their appetites, Life Of Pi shares quite a bit with Pulp Fiction, more so than Lifeboat perhaps (for more, please see Pulp Fiction: A Study In Plato and Aristotle).|
you can watch it instantly via Amazon.com at this link. Here are two clips:
The Fine Art Diner