‘Life of Pi’ **Spoilers** / Best Animated Films of 2012

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This week, hosts Ricky D, Simon Howell and Julian Carrington invite Josh Spiegel (host of the Mousterpiece Cinema podcast), to discuss Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, as well as the best animated features of 2012. In our review of Life of Pi, Ricky D gives two very different opinions of the film – one negative and one positive. It is up to you, to choose which you prefer. And yes, our review will make you find God.

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The Walkmen – “I Lost You”

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Sound On Sight

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7 Comments
  1. Ricky says

    Again, I can’t speak for my co hosts, but our podcast is meant to be critical and the last thing I want, is to have a love fest every week. I actually think that would be dull.

    I believe I was more than fair with the film. I praised the middle section – going so far as calling it a great film sandwiched in between poorly executed bookends. I didn’t make any remarks on how it treats religion, so I can’t comment on that. If there is one thing I have learned in five years of podcasting, listeners will walk away remembering only the negative remarks. Let us not forget I praised many aspects of the movie.

    My final say: I feel that the ending (which is altered from that of the book), felt like a plot twist. I just wasn’t interested in his execution in those scenes.

    1. Edgar Chaput says

      That you did, Ricky. I wouldn’t want to make the four hosts believe I only took away the negative remarks. You brought a hit of leverage which I appreciated. Perhaps the fact that I enjoyed the film (not loved, mind you, but enjoyed) colored my perception of the show. I am willing to admit as much. Nevertheless, I was not expecting so much negativity for a film that is getting reasonably positive reviews. Whether you guys love or hate a film, you can be sure I’ll always listen. I love the show, it’s always a good listen.

  2. Ricky says

    Hey Joshua,

    Thanks for the feedback. I can only answer to the portion of your comment that applies to my review / struggles with the film. I won’t speak for my co-hosts.

    First, as I mentioned on the podcast, there is a lot that I love about the film, all of which is found in the second act. Our review was long and I didn’t have time to even touch on the clear reference between Mohandas Gandhi, the island and the Garden of Eden. I also didn’t have time to address how Ang Lee rethinks the visual essence of water, a key element in the film which is used to express big existential themes. Again, this is all found in the second act, of which I absolutely adored. Nor did I remark on the shortened version of his given name: Pi carries a host of relevant associations as you probably know and thus these associations establish the character as an allegorical figure with multiple layers of meaning. This is all present in the book. But what about the film?

    My problem with the film lies purely in the bookends, which as I stated on the podcast, gives the first and last impression of the motion picture. I’m not quite sure those bookends added anything. In fact, I think it only did harm.

    Life of Pi is a movie that works best if the viewer has an emotional connection to the film, which I didn’t have. And this is nothing that you, nor any review can change. It is purely personal. The good in Life of Pi easily outweighs the bad but it just didn’t resonate with me in the end.

    Now to answer your question: You say you didn’t understand my complaint about the presentation of the two stories. You go on to say that “It’s not about having the stories on equal ground”.

    Well if this is what you believe, than my point is valid. The stories are NOT presented on equal grounds. That is the point I was trying to make.

    I don’t think our review was simple at all really. I feel like you had a strong emotional response to the film and perhaps weren’t willing to listen to what any of my co hosts had to say.

    You then say, “Ang Lee deliberately lets the audience imagine the second story in their minds, which is a more powerful way to experience a story…”

    How do you know this? Are you, like Ang Lee, deciding for me? Are you deciding which story I prefer?

    I am quite aware of what Ang Lee and the ending of this movie is trying to convey but I just don’t like to be spoonfed nor told which version I would prefer.

    As my guest host Josh Spiegel stated, “We are never given more than a glimpse of these characters and only told the second variation in a brief, passing moment”.

    And thus I believe my point is valid. It is an unfair advantage and it is hard to have any emotional connection to characters whom we don’t get much of.

    We are watching a movie. This is a different medium and the key principle of motion pictures is to show, and not simply tell. In the middle section, Ang Lee does what Ang Lee does best. He finds ways to relate the themes in incredible innovative ways. The same cannot be said about the bookends.

    There are two reviews you’ve heard. Sound On Sight and SlashFilm. It is up to you to walk away and choose which you prefer.

    1. Josh says

      Thanks for the response, Ricky. I apologize if my comments came off as demeaning or overly harsh. I’ve just been getting frustrated with a lot of the criticism of this film over the past couple weeks, and I vented a bit here. I think it’s a rich work that leaves the audience with quite a bit to chew on, but it’s consistently being dismissed as an empty film with a pretty face. I could tell that you put more thought into what the film means, and I’m sorry that I didn’t recognize that. All that said, I’m going to have to debate with you some more :)

      So yes, the two stories are put on an unequal footing in terms of structure, and it’s fine if that did not work for you. I just felt that there was no recognition on the podcast of what that difference in structure might mean thematically (i.e. a reflection of 2 different ways humans interpret “reality”). However, I take issue with the argument that the fantastical story has an unfair advantage emotionally because of the characters. Were the zebra, hyena, and orangutan really “characters” that you had a connection to before they showed up on the lifeboat? If anything, the humans in the other story have an unfair advantage because they actually get speaking screentime in the beginning of the film and their basic relationship to Pi is laid out. The emotional connection is meant to be to Pi. Ang Lee is not just telling us the second story with a blank screen, he puts a close-up of Irfan Khan’s face as he describes what happens. The emotional resonance of that story depends on Khan’s acting ability, not on characters we met in the first 30 minutes. I think the tools required to imagine this second story are clearly laid out, and it’s up to the viewer to make the next step. I found it to be bold filmmaking, but it sounds like you did not.

      1. Ricky says

        Josh – I just listened to the Slash Film cast and they also had major problems with the bookends.

        Agian, I think in the end, it didn’t emotionally resonate for me , like it did for so many others.

  3. Joshua Booker says

    I feel like this LIFE OF PI review was as simplistic as the film is accused of being. It’s very simplistic to say that the film presents two narratives, one positive and one negative, and has the audience choose between them. The story that we see is not all sunshine and rainbows: it has the same elements of loss, regret, and fear that the other story has. No one on the podcast discusses WHY one story may be better than the other, considering that they have the same elements. The theme of storytelling is glossed over, which is key to understanding this film. Beyond faith, I think one of the big questions that LIFE OF PI attempts to tackle is: What makes a story better than reality?

    I also don’t understand the complaint about the presentation of the two stories. It’s not about having the stories on equal ground. Ang Lee deliberately lets the audience imagine the second story in their minds, which is a more powerful way to experience a story, especially one with horrors (Critics say all of the time that it’s what you don’t see in horror films that is the most effective). If you view this as a parallel with faith and reason, Lee is inverting the argument to ask the audience: Do you prefer the story in your mind, or the story that you experienced with your physical senses?

    Finally, the argument that this film is offensive because it reduces faith to a coping mechanism or a story preference doesn’t hold much water with me. For me (and I’m an atheist, so take this for what it’s worth), LIFE OF PI was presenting faith as one kind of powerful storytelling, one with the ability to imbue our harsh reality with beauty and meaning through the use of symbols. I don’t see this as a reduction of the idea of religion, I see it as a description of one of its powers. I recommend listening to the /Filmcast’s episode on this topic where Dan Trachtenberg articulates this point better than I could: http://www.slashfilm.com/the-filmcast-bonus-ep-re-assessing-the-ending-of-life-of-pi-guest-dan-trachtenberg/

    1. Edgar Chaput says

      I second a lot of what Joshua wrote above. There’s nothing wrong with not liking the movie, but listening to the show before work today, I was a little surprised at how negative the team was towards Lee’s film. The idea about how the movie treats religion being insulting? Yikes, that’s a little harsh.

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