Review of The Life of Pi
Brenda Liddy © 2012
I was really looking forward to seeing The Life of Pi, the latest offering from one of the world’s most famous contemporary directors, Ang Lee, (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain and Sense and Sensibility. Surai Sharma played Pi, Irrfan Khan played the adult Pi, and Rafe Spall played the writer.
The film was about a young castaway Pi, who survived 227 days on the ocean in a boat with a fierce Bengal tiger but it was also about storytelling itself. The story with its theme of a solitary man against the forces of nature is reminiscent of Hemmingway’s The Old Man of the Sea and Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. The story’s postcolonial setting links it to the post independent novels of Salmam Rushdie. Its magical realist elements connect it to Gabriel García Márquez, the famous Colombian novelist.
In the opening scene there is a giraffe chewing leaves, and flamingos strolling about the Zoo in Pondicherry. Can anything interrupt this animal and avian heaven? Soon things change quickly when Pi’s father informs the family that they are moving to Canada, but not before Pi has stood up to the school bullies by asserting the mathematical prowess of his name. Pi or ð he assures them is a mathematical constant that is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter and is approximately 3.14. Like the colour orange, it is an important symbol in the film because it represents irrationality and transcendence. He is also taught an important lesson by his father who demonstrates that the tiger, Richard Parker is not a friend after we witness the latter killing a little female kid goat in five seconds. His final preparation as a castaway would not be complete without his swimming lessons from his honorary uncle, Francis Adirubasamy. Who incidentally suggested he be named after his favourite swimming pool, the Piscine Molitor, a Parisian swimming club that he adored. Of course no hero’s spiritual journey would be complete without his spiritual training and in the film we are taken through his introduction to Vishnu, Jesus and Mohammed, via the pandit, priest and imam.
The cargo ship in which the family and the animals travel to Canada is called the Tsumtsim. The name Tsumtsim means, as defined by kabbalistic philosophy is the space or contraction. Their belief as formulated by Luria proposes that in order to create the universe, God had to vacate a part of himself. After the accident which is moment of high drama, the orphaned Pi’s life is suddenly reduced to a lifeboat, a raft and three animals, a zebra, a hyena and a tiger. As the animals struggle for mastery of the boat, the drama intensifies. Ultimately, Richard Parker and Pi survive and what follows is a cat and mouse game to see who gets the upper hand.
In the film, Pi tries to and succeeds in training the tiger to honour each other’s respective territory in the boat. He provides food and water for Richard Parker and in a way gives him a reason to live. He controls the tiger by means of a whistle and sets up a feeding schedule for him. In a way the tiger taming is a metaphor for the way we all need to establish healthy boundaries in our lives and how we need to live by a series of rituals. This ensures Pi’s survival. Just as he marks out the days on the side of the boat, so too does he create a daily routine for looking after the tiger. In the film, we see Pi conducting his activities from the raft he has assembled, while the tiger seems ultimately to play along in order to survive. Both of them have been thrown out into a cruel world, with no prospect of being rescued. Prior to being cast out on the merciless ocean they both lived in a zoo, and never had to fend for themselves. A schoolboy who was bored with facts, fractions and French now has to become Robinson Crusoe and a well fed tiger, who has recently dined on kid goats, has now to live in the confined space of a life boat and be looked after by a young boy.
As time progresses Pi learns the lesson that hunger can change everything you thought you knew about yourself. After a few dramatic scenes of flying fish, and a tanker sailing past them, a terrible storm arises. Pi cries out, ‘I surrender, what more do you want?’ After the floating island with the thousands of meerkats scurrying around, Pi comes to the conclusion that he needs to set sail again as the islandwill eventually destroy him. At the end of the Pacific Ocean episode, Pi has morphed into a philosopher as he declares, ‘Life is an act of letting go.’ When the boat is washed up on the coast of Mexico, Richard just walks off into the forest. Pi is devastated because this is an unceremonious parting of the ways, after all they had been through.
Two Japanese men from the shipping company come to interview Pi. He tells them the story of his adventure on the lifeboat with the Bengal tiger. They are incredulous, especially when he tells them about Orange Juice, the orang-utan who came floating towards him on a bunch of bananas. ‘But bananas don’t float,’ one of them comments. They want a better story for their report. Pi provides one full of ‘yeastless factuality,’ where he was the tiger, the mother was the orang-utan, the Happy Buddhist was the zebra, and the hyena was the cook. They look on, horrified. Pi says, 'so tell me, since it makes no factual difference to you and you can't prove the question either way, which story do you prefer? Which is the better story, the story with animals or the story without animals?'
Mr. Okamoto states, 'That's an interesting question.’
Mr. Chiba says, 'The story with animals.'
Mr. Okamoto comments, ‘Yes. The story with animals is the better story.'
And Pi declares, 'Thank you. And so it goes with God.'
If the listener of Pi’s tale does not believe in God by the end of the story, the viewer will certainly.
Review of Wuthering Heights
Wuthering Heights, the latest Brontë adaptation was directed by Andrea Arnold and premiered at Venice Film Festival in 2011. Arnold’s first film, Red Road won the Jury Prize in Cannes 2006, and Fish Tank, won the same award in Cannes, 2009. Kaya Rose Scodelario plays the adult Cathy Earnshaw, while James Howson plays the adult Heathcliff. Shannon Beer stars as Catherine Earnshaw junior and Solomon Glave as Heathcliff junior.
In Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff, Catherine Earnshaw’s foster brother, a foundling from the streets of Liverpool, forms a close bond with her. When Cathy grows up she marries the foppish Edgar Linton for money and security and rejects the feral Heathcliff. Although as she admits to Nellie, the housekeeper “I am Heathcliff—he's always, always in my mind—not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself— but as my own being—so, don't talk of our separation again—it is impracticable.” But after this separation takes place, Heathcliff wreaks a revenge that is out all proportion to the deed, and continues his snarling malevolence into the next generation.
It is a very apt that this film is shown in Belfast, a mere thirty three miles from Rathfriland, the homeland of the Reverend Patrick Brontë, father of the famous Emily Brontë, who penned Wuthering Heights in 1847. In fact one of the Brontë descendents, Carol Katherine Brontë still lives in County Down, and has completed research and gives talks on the famous family and Patrick’s early life in Ireland. Emily Brontë’s book was greeted with a mixture of criticism and disapproval and one paper described it as a ‘strange sort of book—baffling all regular criticism.’
From the opening scene of the film as the adult Heathcliff lies writhing below the ghostly lattice window, we enter a strange sort of world, where in Virginia Woolf words, ‘all that we know of human beings are torn up and are replaced by spirits that transcend reality.’ We have no need for facts for as Woolf argues, Emily Brontë ‘with a few touches could indicate the spirit of a face so that it needs no body; by speaking of the moor make the wind blow and the thunder roar.’ Like Cathy’s prescient dream we are thrown out of heaven for a period of two hours, for we do not belong there as we journey through the hellish, but exhilarating landscapes, which is the backdrop of the early lives of Heathcliff and the wild and passionate Cathy.
The film concentrates on the early lives of the doomed couple as they ride and romp across the elemental moors. The viewer enters this almost nightmarish landscape with its harriers and hounds constantly barking and although to paraphrase Cathy’s words, it kills us, but we thrive on it. Now and then a we are give a close up of a rotten apple, an unkempt child, a rabbit being strangled, or lamb being slaughtered or a child being whipped until he bleeds, as the rain pelts down and the wind blows across the wild and desolate moors. There is no need for a soundtrack as we are spellbound by the howling wind, the thunder, the barking hounds and the church bells and the lashing rain.
In the end we may reverse Cathy’s words, ‘let me in’ to ‘let me out’! Andrea Arnold certainly makes the wind blow and the thunder roll in this film and we look forward to her next project.
Brenda Liddy, Film Journalism student, Blick Studios
Brenda Liddy © 2011
Review of Sleep, Eat Party.
Tinderbox Theatre Company’s latest offering, Sleep, Eat Party opened in the OMAC on the 10th November, before embarking on a regional tour. The drama was based on interviews given by young people in Northern Ireland, a type of theatre known as verbatim and used before in the context of the Bloody Sunday Saville Inquiry. Damian Gorman, the playwright said, “I’d say about 50-55% of the words came from other people, and the rest is from me. Although some of their words I have worked on a bit, or ‘flash-fried’ as I’d put it.”
The play covered the topic of young people’s angst, and the five actors, four men and one woman certainly gave convincing performances. The subjects of suicide, fatherhood, drug addiction and sexuality are presented in a frank way, and the audience seemed to empathise with the struggles facing contemporary youth. At times, when the characters are hanging upside down on the scaffolding it is impossible not to admire their sheer physical stamina in saying their lines and sustaining the dialogue.
The physicality of the drama adds to the dramatic tension for the world that unfolds before the audience is not ‘brave new world’ envisioned by Aldous Huxley where “People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can't get. They're well off; they're safe; they're never ill; they're not afraid of death; they're blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they're plagued with no mothers or fathers”. This is more the theatre of Brecht where social truths are confronted.
Although it was an excellent performance, there were times when it was difficult to distinguish between the characters, especially when they played one or more roles. But to achieve this kind of impact, you probably sacrifice character and dialogue