Life of Pi: An Appreciation
I love seeing places I know in film. They feel like a secret shared between me and the movie, a whispered “We know this place, you and I.” Here, Ang Lee uses recognizable locations in Pondicherry and Montreal in a way that maintains the integrity of the local geography alongside the imaginary geography of the story. He announces: Space matters and will be treated with care and attention to detail.
3D is a spectacle of depth attempting to deny the flatness of the screen. Objects are close or far. They are in front of or behind. In moments of frenzied action, Life of Pi uses 3D in this way. More often however, 3D is used to make empty spaces deep: air over flat water, light on rippled water. Space expands quietly offering room for thought.
Unexpectedly, during its most spectacular moments, the film arranges objects in the frame so as to flatten the image. A boat floats on a black pool of brilliant stars; or it floats in a field of buttery light, sky and sea indistinguishable except for the thin horizon drawn through the center of the frame. These moments of flatness are announced as a compositional strategy in the animal montage rolling under the opening credits, most memorably in the picture of a bird and the flowering branches of a tree. The 3D technology cuts the image’s foreground from its background, creating an illusion of depth, but the photography cancels that illusion by composing its subject in the manner of a silk painting.
The shallowness of objects pitted against the depth of emptiness. This strategy is thematic. It is also the only intellectual use of 3D technology that I have seen.
The action of the story is both constrained and enabled by the geography of the lifeboat and raft. Distances between the raft and the lifeboat, between the front of the lifeboat and its back are crucial here. The 3D underscores the distinction, and here too, it is thematic. What after all is a dance between too close and too far if not a love story? And this film is about nothing if not love.
Two images capture that story for me. In the first, a tiger hangs to the edge of a boat by a claw, desperate and lost. A young man, ax in hand and desperate too to live, looks down from above and recognizes the tiger as real and alive and worthy of care. In the second image, a tiger sits in a boat as night falls waiting for the young man (who looks on from afar) to come back to their home. Between these moments is a story of generosity and kindness, both given freely until the giving becomes a habit and the habit a joy. That feels like a definition of love to me.
Happy Valentines Day.
So my movie buddy and I are watching the best picture list from the Oscars. Our first go? Silver Linings Playbook. I’ve documented the travesties here. Full text below the fold.