The Movie Scab Reviews: "Life of Pi."

"The scab you're picking at is called execution."

--American film producer Scott Rudin.

Monkey Boy picks the movies!
Monkey Boy picks the movies!

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Monkey Boy gives Life of Pi 3 Acks! out of 5!

Life of Pi.

I do not appreciate being misled and I don’t care how beautiful a movie is, i.e., lying isn’t cool, it isn’t clever and the ends do not justify the means. Lying is lazy storytelling, that’s all, and it pisses me off when authors and screenwriters rely on it as a storytelling tool.

Yann Martel is the super genius who wrote the book, Life of Pi, a French-Canadian. (Need I say more? French-Canadians are natural born liars. All French-Canadians are thieves.) David Magee wrote the screenplay adaptation and Ang Lee directed the movie. The fault lies with all of them, of course, because they told a story that succumbs to the lowest level of storytelling by relying on a lamebrain trick (a lie) at the end. But the French-Canadian gets the brunt of the blame for perpetuating it. It was his idea in the first place. Magee and Lee simply remained faithful to the book.

To discuss just how deceptive the storytelling in this movie is (not to mention the marketing), I’m going to have to reveal the duplicitous ending. If that’s a problem for you, stop reading now and go home and cry to mommy.

Monkey Boy gave Life of Pi 3 stars out of 5 because it is beautifully filmed. The images really and truly do inspire wonder in the heart of the moviegoer, which is kind of ironic when you understand the dirty trick that’s played on the audience at the end.

Still, because the movie is so darn beautiful to watch, it’s worth paying the big bucks so that you can see it on the big movie screen (if you can get over the crap-ending). I’d even encourage you to watch it in 3D, and ask Monkey Boy, I never do that. Just make sure you’ve had a lot of alcohol to drink first. That way you can try to forget the bigfatstupid ending and the fact that you’ve been lied to for two freakin’ hours and five minutes!

Let’s get the first story out of the way: Piscine Molitor Patelis, the main character, is named after a French swimming pool. Yes, you read that right: A French swimming pool. (The book is, as I pointed out, written by a French-Canadian and French-Canadians live in Canada, so that’s probably why the French-Canadian named his main character after a French swimming pool—what a clever French-Canadian.) Middle aged now, with big, sad, bulging eyeballs that show us how wise he is (and how much delicious protein his eyeballs have), Pi tells his story to an earnest white guy (not a French-Canadian) who heard that Pi can tell a story that will make him believe in God.

That's the key: Pi can tell us a story that will make us believe in God. Remember that. Hold that thought.

The story is told in flashback and so we learn:

As a kid, Piscine Molitor Patel shortens his name to “Pi” in order to stop being mercilessly mocked by his fellow classmates. (Magee and Lee were going to change his name to "Piebald" because they thought "Pi" was simply too pretentious. They were also going to add a scene were Pi plans to murder his parents because they were stupid and unkind enough to name him after a French swimming pool, but Magee and Lee decided against both at the last minute.)

Raised a Hindu, Pi sees God in everything and later converts to Christianity and Islam when he’s fourteen. He’s also been raised to believe in logic and reason by his atheist father, so as it turns out—call it synchronicity, if you like—Pi is the New Age Canadian politically correct spiritual wet dream Canadians wish Americans were, but I’ll call it what it simply is: Hogwash. (Hey, isn’t that a French word?)

OK. How about PC cliché?

Pi’s loving and wise atheist dad buys a zoo. (His father is so wise and benevolent that he comes across as the atheist Obi-Wan Kenobi.) For whatever crazy reason, his father decides to move the entire family from India to Canada. (Come on! It’s written by a French-Canadian! Where do you think he’s going to send them? The United States?) They travel with the animals on a ship. The ship sinks. And Pi finds himself stranded in a lifeboat with some of their zoo animals, one in particular: a Bengal tiger.

Pi and the tiger have to learn how to get along so that they can survive and they have one heckuva adventure along the way.

OK. Got it. Big adventure. And it is a big adventure (and a good story too), and it’s beautiful to watch. Indeed it is. It’s certainly uplifting. It’s kind of spiritual. It’s definitely about the triumph of the human spirit. And so the music soars, inspiring us to belief with ethereal sweeping tones, and, in fact, every frame is imbued with spiritual significance. The opening titles clearly show us we’re in for a mystical kind of ride: credits appear and fade away in and around meditative animals in a zoo or fly with birds or butterflies or bugs or whatever—you get the idea, right? It’s mystical and gentle and lovely right from the start. Later we see a shot of Pi’s city, and the hills in the distance look like a sleeping woman made of trees—oooo, that’s pretty mystical all right. I'm on board, and speaking of floating, the entire lifeboat sequence drowns us in magical imagery that must convince us there is a God, there is a God, there is a God. Or something. Right?

And now for the lazy writing trick, and that’s all it is, folks, a cheap, crappy trick.

While we’re still spinning from the wonder of Pi's amazing tale, all giddy smiles and awash in some kind of intoxicating belief, however short-lived, Pi suddenly confesses at the end of the movie—and it is sudden and detailed: There’s a… second story. Doh!

Oh. Now I get it. Of course there is. This was originally written by a French-Canadian. Liar! Thief!

Pi confesses that he made the story of his survival up, the whole thing with the tiger in the lifeboat: Total bullcrap.

Everything I watched for the last two hours and five minutes: Total bullcrap.

Pi did this because the true story is unbearably grotesque, involving murder and cannibalism. To stay alive, just like Alfred Packer, the Colorado Cannibal, Pi ate somebody’s liver, maybe his heart, and I bet he sucked out his eyeballs too. (Survivors lost at sea tend to do that, suck out the eyeballs, because the body needs protein and eyeballs are full of protein.) He may have cooked up a steak and kidney pie for all I know.

And then the storytellers take us back to middle-aged Pi, his big, sad, bulging eyeballs bursting with tears (and delicious protein), and he asks the earnest white guy who is not French-Canadian: Which story is better? And the earnest white guy says the one with the tiger, of course, because the true story is too horrible to believe. And then Pi says… wait for it… wait for it… and so it goes with God.

Ah… Strike me with a thunderbolt and call me Shirley!

I get it. So God isn’t real. God is a story that we tell ourselves in order to get us through the murdering, cannibalistic, eyeball sucking thing we call life.

Now, I couldn’t care less if you believe in God or not, but from a storytelling perspective this kind of trick really gets me steamed: “Oh. By the way. None of this is real. It didn’t happen. Ha, ha. Joke’s on you.” And remember the key: The storytellers told us in the very beginning that Pi can tell us a story that will make us believe in God.

But that’s not true, is it? His story does the exact opposite. Pi can tell us a story that will make us not believe in God.

And if that's the case, dammit, it means the storytellers set me up.

If Avatar was as dishonest as Life of Pi, it would have ended with paraplegic Jake Sully naked in an insane asylum bound to a wheelchair, masturbating in the corner as he drooled, “I am a 10 foot tall, blue-skinned, wise native from the planet Pandora! I am a 10 foot tall, blue-skinned, wise native from the planet Pandora!”

You think the audience might have felt a little cheated?

This kind of lazy storytelling makes me think of another movie that used the same story device: Vanilla Sky written and directed by Cameron Crowe. In that film, they led me to believe in the world they created and then dropped a bombshell at the very, very last second: The main character has been in cryonic sleep for 150 years and the entire freakin’ movie is a dream, negating everything we saw, every character we got to know, every plot line.

George Lucas did the same thing with the Force. It just took him 20 years to do it: He introduced us to the Force in the first three Star Wars movies and then 20 years later made a new Star Wars movie where he reduced the Force to microscopic bugs.

Nice way to kill 20 years of mythology and wonder, George.

Life of Pi does the same thing. It sets us up, fills us with wonder and belief, and then guts us at the last moment with a trick ending.

I mean, think about how much the filmmakers invested to make you believe just so that they could trick you at the end, think about the effort: From the opening wispy credits, the ethereal music, the image of hilltops that look like a woman and the entire boy/tiger boating adventure at sea, keeping the truth from you until the very end.

Manipulative? Oui, juste un peu.

What a crock. I walked out of Vanilla Sky feeling cheated and ready to punch Cameron Crowe in the kisser. Millions of Star Wars fans would still like to disembowel George Lucas for ruining the mythology of the Force. Now I want to kick Ang Lee in the nuts. And as for the lazy French-Canadian who wrote this stupid thing in the first place…

I’d like to suck out his lying, manipulative, deceptive French-Canadian eyeballs.

And then, finally, there’s this to think about: At the end of the day, what the author and filmmaker, through the character Pi, are essentially telling 98% of the world population is that their belief in God isn't true but it's OK that it's not true and they believe because believing in God doesn't change anything because it isn't true (which story is better, we’re all trapped on a lifeboat at sea and we’re eating each other or God exists and loves us?), wink wink, nudge nudge, so relax because we smart people who don't believe understand why you people do believe, and when you think about it, that's a rather condescending, superior and perhaps even insulting point of view. Well. It is for 98% of the world population anyway. I guess the book and the movie were made by the 2% who think the 98% are idiots.

My rating: Ten vodka Sea Breezes with a salt water chaser, followed by a Tiger by the Tail and a Lemon Lifeboat. Make sure you’ve actually been in a boat with five French-Canadians for at least an hour before the movie starts so that you’re green around the gills by the time you step into the theatre. Enjoy the beautiful movie and adventure between Pi and the Bengal tiger, but unload the vomit cannon into your neighbor’s extra-large popcorn bucket when Pi says, “And so it goes with God.” Blame it on the French-Canadians, then kneel down and pray to the movie gods and thank them for providing the sacred movie theatre space, confess your sins, say three Hail Mary’s, journey to Mecca as penance, follow the Mahabharata, and stuff your face with pie, any kind of pie, pumpkin pie, cherry pie, just make sure it’s pie.

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