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August 02, 2014

Life of Pi - Movie Review


And so the movie reviews on Lyriticus commence! I'm starting off with Life of Pi, a movie which stuck with me for quite some time because of the interesting themes and symbolism.

The story revolves around a man from various kinds of religions who goes on an epic journey, one that will make you believe in "God." Does it succeed in it's goal? Let's go through the facts and find out.

Reviewed By: Kyle van Rensburg (Head Writer)

Director: Ang Lee

Release Date: September 2012

Genre: Adventure Fantasy

Verdict: 13+ For Frightening Sequences and Religious Themes.



Areas of Concern:

Violence/Gore:

Mild Moderate Heavy Very Heavy Extreme Offensive

--In a long sequence, a man and a tiger nearly drown inside the boat as they crash through huge waves. We see the tiger struggling desperately to keep his head above the water and not drown, a panicked expression on his face. He is swept along the inside of the boat, roaring and grabbing around to steady himself. This sequence goes on for an extended period of time.

--A massive storm causes huge waves to hit a ship, sweeping a man off the ship and into the waters. The waves then tunnel into the capsizing ship. The man swims into the ship to rescue people, but he is unable to do so. 

Outside, several animals run around and collide into objects in panic. The man climbs into a life raft, but a Zebra drops on it and causes the life raft to fall, knocking another man into the ocean.

The surviving man struggles to stay in the life boat, with several animals jumping in and falling out as huge waves hit them, seen from his point of view. We later see the massive ship sinking into the ocean.

--Several animals are killed during the movie; the first of which is a hippo who ends up being eaten by sharks. We see it struggle as the sharks bite it, some blood flowing out into the water. This is very brief.

-A paralysed/weakened creature is attacked by a carnivorous creature, which bites the weakened creature's legs, pulling at the skin, and then biting at the abdomen as the creature struggles. We see a silhouette of creature being eaten, obscured by the panel of a boat for quite some time, but this is not graphic.

We later see the creature's dead body, the abdomen open and ribs exposed with some blood. The carnivore then attacks another creature which hits it in the head. The other creature is then grabbed in the neck by the carnivore. We hear screams as the carnivore eats the creature off-screen.

We see it's dead body twitching slightly and some blood on the boards beneath it. This is brief. The carnivore is then attacked by another animal. We hear it scream briefly and it's neck is broken off-screen with a crack.

-A man throws a rat at a tiger, who grabs it in his mouth and devours it whole, bloodlessly. A man hits a fish he caught several times with the blunt end of a tomahawk. We then see the fish with an open wound near its head.

A tiger grabs a meerkat and eats it off-screen.

--A man tells a story of a man eating a rat, and then eating an injured man after he died. We also hear that a woman was stabbed to death after attacking a man, and then being eaten by sharks. A man says he murdered a man by stabbing him with a blade and that the man let him do so without a fight. 

--A goat is attacked off-screen by a tiger, screeching heard. The tiger drags the goat through the bars of a cage and down a hallway, presumably to be eaten.


Sex/Nudity:

Mild Moderate Heavy Very Heavy Extreme Offensive

--For more than half of the movie, a man is shown topless, dressed in only his pants. Early on in the movie, we see several men in speedos and women in bikinis at a swimming pool, showing off their bare midriffs, cleavage and legs.

Language:

Mild Moderate Heavy Very Heavy Extreme Offensive

-Uses of P**s, H**l and D**n.

Drugs/Alcohol/Smoking:

Mild Moderate Heavy Very Heavy Extreme Offensive 

--A man doses several animals with sleeping pills. Later on, a Hyena is seen stumbling around, and a man remarks: "Looks like your drugs haven't worn off yet!"

Spiritual Content:

Mild Moderate Heavy Very Heavy Extreme Offensive 

--We see several kinds of statues, items and figures dedicated to the Hindu religion. We also see people performing Hindu ceremonies. Several times, a man prays to Hindu gods. In one scene, he prays to Vishnu to thank him for introducing him to "Jesus." In another scene, he thanks Vishnu for "appearing in the form of a fish."

A man speaks extensively about his experience in the Hindu religion, talking about how he met Krishna. We also see the Lotus flower at several points in the movie, including in one sequence which depicts some kind of "vision".

In a dance class, a woman says that they must let their "spiritual energy" pulse through them. A sculpted portrait of Krishna is seen in the background of the scene.

-We see the interior of a Roman Catholic church and a man talks about the sacrifice of Christ for our sins. A man remarks afterwards that Christ's sacrifice doesn't make sense, in the sense that sacrificing someone innocent for the guilty to be pardoned.

-People are shown praying to Allah and doing Muslim rituals. A man is stated to part of three different religions: Hinduism, Christianity and Islam (a side dish of Kabbalah thrown in there as well), choosing three different religions simply because he wants to be close to God.

Gross Stuff:

--A boy's first name is "Piscine" which can easily be misheard. Early on in the movie, he is constantly asked if he is "p**sing." A teacher holds up a flask of yellow chemicals and calls his name; several kids laugh and make fun of him.

Later on, he is shown to be "p**sing" on a boat to mark his territory and scare off a tiger. The tiger then lifts up its leg and sprays him in the face with urine; we briefly see the yellow fluids spraying towards the screen.

-A Hyena throws up on a boat, the grey fluids seen.

Emotional/Intense Scenes:

--A huge shipwreck takes place, with the cinematography emulating the sway of the ship against the powerful waves. The music makes the scene very emotional after the huge shipwreck, when a man sees the ship sinking and cries out for his family in between sobs.

-The deaths of the animals can be very emotional, especially for animal lovers. A man breaks down crying after killing a fish, which can also be very moving. Later on, a man sobs uncontrollably over a companion abandoning him, mentioning that it broke his "heart."

-A tiger bursts out from underneath a raft, which can be a bit of a jump scare.

-A man cradles the head of a tiger in his lap and talks about how the two of them are dying as he sobs and comes to acceptance about their combined fate. This scene is quite emotional.

--A man tells a rather gruesome and sad story, stopping to cry and gain his composure several times.

Review of Movie:

With the content out of the way, let's go straight to the review. But first, let me address something: Yes, at first I wanted to include an analysis going over the different themes of the movie.

However, as I watched it, I realised that the movie isn't actually as deep as it claims to be. Sure, it's a magnificent and thrilling story, but deep? Not exactly. 

The religious themes are thrown in simply to be an interesting setting and little is done to make them dovetail into the main plot. Because of this, the movie ultimately ends being superficial.

Confused? Well, lemme explain. If you've not seen the movie, here's a plot summary of the most important things which occur in Life of Pi. Of course, SPOILERS FOLLOW:

Life of Pi starts off during the childhood years of a boy named Piscine Molitor Patel, "Pi" for short. At an early age, he shows a high level of intelligence and a genuine desire to explore the world around him.

He grows up in Hinduism, worshiping many gods and enjoying the wonderful concept of "God" as a whole. His father warns him, however, saying "Don't let the spectacle fool you, religion is darkness." Pi doesn't take his father's advice and eventually becomes a Catholic and a Muslim in the following years.

His mother is tolerant of his soul-searching, but his father considers it to be foolish to follow several different religions, saying that following all is equivalent to following none at all. 

Once again, Pi doesn't listen to his father and goes on with his life of spirituality until one day he has his growing faith shattered. He meets a tiger by the name of Richard Parker (long story) and swears that he saw a "soul" inside of him. 

His father destroys his faith by chaining a goat to the barriers surrounding the tiger's cage. When the tiger devours the poor goat like the tiger he is, his father makes his point clear, "An animal will always just be that; an animal."

Anyway, cutting the chase, Pi's father eventually decides to move to Canada and moves his zoo with him. All of the animals are loaded onto a boat and they set off for Canada and it's all sunshine, roses and kittens right?

Of course not. The boat capsizes and Pi is stuck in a lifeboat with several other animals and a tiger. Predictably, the other animals are all killed until it's only Pi and the tiger. Pi and the tiger drift out at the sea, struggling to survive until they finally learn to trust each other.

(Please Note: This is a very basic summary of the plot. This part of the movie is where it shines, showing us the wonders of nature juxtaposed against a constant struggle to survive.)

They eventually wash up on a mysterious island after nearly dying of starvation, taking their time to feast on the island's strange vegetation and meerkats. (Yes, meerkats.) At night, the island turns into a very different beast, with the pools of crystal clear water turning into baths of acid.

After finding a human tooth in a Lotus flower, Pi discovers that the island is carnivorous and if he stays, he will eventually end up like the people before him who thought the island was a beacon of hope, only to lose their minds and eventually be devoured after dying slowly and painfully.

Pi gathers food for him and the tiger, setting off for civilization. They eventually beach up on the shores of Mexico, exhausted and near death. The tiger runs off into the jungle without as much as a simple "goodbye", breaking Pi's heart.

Later on, Pi recovers in hospital and receives a visit from two Japanese officials investigating the crash. When he tells them the wondrous story, they consider it implausible, asking him to give them a more rational explanation.

He agrees and tells a far more plausible story, replacing the animals with his mother, a sailor, a cook and himself as the tiger. The sailor is eventually killed by the cook after he sustains an injury, and the corpse is used as bait. 

His mother objects to this and a couple of days later, she attacks the cook, but after a fight, she ends up in the water, being devoured by sharks. Pi eventually kills the cook as revenge, shocked by how the cook's evil side rubbed off on him, causing him to do many amoral things just to survive.

The movie ends with the viewer being asked to decide which one of the two stories is the real one. The characters choose the more wondrous one and it's not too big a leap to assume that the audience does the same. (Well, most of the audience, at least.)

While on paper, it sounds like a good concept, and several movies before it have done something similar, the execution leaves many plot threads hanging loose and comes off more like a proverb instead of an actual story.

To elaborate, let me make a comparison to a soon-to-be-reviewed movie which asked hard questions similar to Life of Pi. The movie's name is 2001 A Space Odyssey.

Say what you want of the movie, it stays true to itself. It doesn't give you an easy way out. It challenges you with very deep and surreal moments exploring the wonders of the universe, the unanswerable and unknowable, with elegance and flair not unlike Life of Pi.

2001 was one very long question mark, even from the beginning, leaving you with several unanswered questions, but it works because it's all about questions and never about answers. It shows things, yeah, but it always make you question.

Life of Pi ends on a similar question mark. Why is that bad, you may ask? Because of the simple fact that up until the ending, Life of Pi was about definite STATEMENTS. There were some questions, such as the nature of the soul, but those were thrown aside in the decidedly cop-out ending.

It's tough to explain what's wrong with the movie. Even as I'm typing out this review, I noticed that I'm going around in circles. There's just no way to explain what's wrong with the movie by following the movie's logic. It's a brilliant tale, that's for sure, but one that's too scared to offend with an actual STATEMENT about the nature of God.

What you're left with is a very magnificent story which basically castrates itself in the end, tearing it's own voice out and handing it to the audience to tear apart and claim as their own. While the film stays great, its biggest obstacle in becoming a masterpiece is nothing other than itself.

Quality Verdict: Great (B+)

Visually stunning, awe-inspiring, yet ultimately unfulfilling, Life of Pi leaves us with many questions answered by a cop-out when it should have just stayed true to itself, giving up its own very unique voice out of wanting to conform to the opinions of the masses.

Conclusion:

Okay, so first thing's first: The movie has a lot of religious themes in it. It actually surprised me to see that Life of Pi is rated "PG" in America when it contains many mature discussions about different religions.

However, I'm not judging the movie for this at all and I think it's an excellent starting point for parents to speak to their children about the different religions in the world. (Yes, ultra conservative Christians, you actually have to teach them about other religions.)

Life of Pi also has many frightening sequences and emotionally tense scenes which may be too much for younger children to handle. The sequence where the tiger and the boy nearly drown in a huge swarm of waves is very sad and intense.

All in all, Life of Pi should be okay for children over the age of 13. Parental guidance strongly advised for younger children or impressionable teens.

Content Verdict:
For Frightening Sequences and Religious Themes.

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