Sunday, April 7, 2013

Eye of the Tiger: Life of Pi an inspiration for the soul and the eyes

 Image courtesy of Fox 2000 Pictures

 I'll be honest - the main reason I went to see Life of Pi wasn't because it was a Best Picture contender, or that the director is the famed Ang Lee - it was for the tiger.

There's something about tigers - their strength and fire, and yet their uncanny ability to look like the bigger cousin of the harmless tabby sleeping on a windowsill. You know one could gobble you up in moments - or at least maim you for life - and yet, there's something soft and vulnerable beyond those eyes burning bright, in the forests of the night, as William Blake once wrote.

The opener doesn't quite take you where you think the movie will go. There's lots of cute animals, picturesque scenes of Pondicherry, India, fun jokes about how the main character, Pi, gets his nickname. Then - this is not a spoiler if you've seen the trailers at all - a monumental tragedy strikes, and Pi finds himself on a small boat on the ocean with a strange cast of characters, and soon, only him and a tiger named Richard Parker, left to fight the elements.

A strangely accurate breakdown of the film, courtesy of

The visuals are eye candy to feed the soul. I tend to see 3D as being gimmicky and usually not worth the extra $3 or sometimes $5 theatres tack onto the already expensive movie ticket, but Lee uses the effects to their utmost advantage, particularly during the shipwreck scene. It is a sweeping moment, when you are drawn in to the heart of the storm, utterly swept away from reality and you realize that the movie really and truly HAS you in its clutches. Of course, there are many beautiful movies where the plot is forgettable at best and deplorable at worst (I'm looking at you, Tree of Life.) The story purports to be one that "will make you believe in God." Of course WHICH god you decide to believe in, the movie cleverly sidesteps; but given how much crap Pi has to deal with, that message seems a bit skeptical. So what DOES director Ang Lee want us to take away from this story? And is the tiger real, or just the delusions of a boy suffering from sunstroke after six months adrift on an unforgiving sea?

During my time as a staff writer for Soundings, a nationwide boating magazine, I spoke to people who survived for days at sea after wrecks, so perhaps the movie had more personal weight for me than others. Most of the time, the one sentiment I heard over and over again was - "I'm just glad to be alive." I believe the Richard Parker is real in this film; I also believe that he represents the fire and strength in the human soul, the tenacity of our will to live. Pi says Richard Parker is what kept him alive.There is that tiger in all of us that somehow allows us to live another day, to seek another sunset, and to help us be brave enough to imagine a different reality for ourselves; that even when we have nothing; and so much is taken from us - there is still that tiger in our soul, that will to live, to see what's around the next horizon.

Perhaps if one cannot believe in god (or a god) by the end of this film, we moviegoers, jaded as we are at times, can find some will to believe in ourselves. Perhaps that's the first step towards the existence of a higher being. Life of Pi is a movie that moves me and will continue to do so  for a long time to come.

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