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Why I’d Give the Oscar to Ang Lee’s Beautiful Life of Pi

A minority of one: I think it's the best by far of the ones I've seen.

Andrew Klavan


February 22, 2013 - 9:00 am

It’ll be a pretty rich but not unexpected irony if the Oscars freeze out Zero Dark Thirty because it tells the truth about waterboarding, and reward Argo because it covers up the fatal incompetence of the Carter administration. Personally, though, I thought the charm of Silver Linings Playbook outweighed either of them and, if I had to choose among the movies I’ve seen, I’d pick Ang Lee’s Life of Pi.

Spoiler here: I’ll try not to give away the trick to Pi, but if you haven’t read the book or seen the film, you might want to move on.

I really enjoyed the Yann Martel novel but in the end, the whole Pi deal is really kind of spiritually twee — cute and dear, I mean. All religions are a path to God. Which explanation of life do you prefer? Really??? Who cares what you prefer? What about the truth? And what about the fact that the truth tends to be exclusive? That is, if one thing is true, frequently another, opposite thing cannot be true. The sky can’t both be red and blue at the same time. God is either there or not — and he either wants you to love your neighbor or slay the infidel, but probably not both. The theology of Pi is comforting nonsense when you get right down to it.

So while I enjoyed the story of the novel, and while I enjoyed the surprise ending, I couldn’t help but give a shrug when it was over. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I thought, and then pretty much forgot the whole thing.

Ang Lee’s movie version is different. That is, it’s exactly the same — same story, same trick, same twee approach to theology. But the feel is different. First of all, the thing is just freaking beautiful. Not beautiful in a heavy-handed way, but it actually captures a sense of the wonder and beauty and terror of nature. The special effects are beyond belief — and not like the special effects in a monster movie; they really mean something. And finally, the choice Lee makes about how to play the ending, which at first put me off, actually serves to give the film a sense of tragedy and depth and sorrow that the book simply doesn’t have. It’s really a hell of a film. I loved it. I think it’s the best by far of the ones I’ve seen.

And hey, speaking of the controversy that, they say, will cost Zero Dark Thirty the trophy, Lee’s Brokeback Mountain got similarly smoked in 2005 for showing gay cowboys. Instead they gave it to Crash, which stank. So even though they gave Lee the director statue, they owe him a best picture film.

Never mind. I’m a minority of one here judging by all the previous awards this season. I guess I’ll just skip the Oscars and let time prove me right.

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Cross-posted from Klavan on the Culture. Visit for additional comments.

More recent movie and book recommendations from Andrew Klavan at PJ Lifesytle:

Proof of Heaven Isn’t… Still… 

Andrew Klavan’s newest novel is Nightmare City.

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Well, paths to spirituality is just a little more complicated idea than faddist notions and cultural conceits can encompass. The idea that a man in a turban, or of dark skin, in innately more spiritual than a man in a baseball cap is a tide that does not lift all boats, certainly not a novel created by plagiarism. The cultural conceit is that non-technological societies disdain technology through wisdom rather than incompetence. It is a common meme today that native Americans or Indians laughed at the silly brutes with gatling guns even while those spiritless brutes enslaved those brave and secretly superior Freman.

Add to this that this exact cultural conceit amounts to a type of politics that lifts tiresome and unoriginal novels into a sphere they propose that they themselves have escaped from, namely, perceptual traps.

If you doubt this, look at this years 6 Nebula nominees for best SF&F novel. Have the right name and right political sheen, and a novel no different from a grade B sword and sorcery novel from 1939 like "Flamewinds" by Norvell Page suddenly has traction once again. In this regard I give you "Throne of the Crescent Moon" by Saladin Ahmed. No different than you and I really, Ahmed having been raised in Dearborn, MI, but being half-Arab comes along with a PhD in spirituality and the concept of "wise," even when there is no wisdom afoot.

Comments about the novels generally laud them for not being euro-centric (read white) and having gays in them and female authors. This "wise Latina" syndrome is not spirituality but simply a form of new and approved subtle bigotry.

Like Frank Herbert writes, "Be prepared to appreciate what you meet," and that includes keeping your eyes wider than wide. Instead of some white guy being the preacher it's now some not white guy. But like "Life of Pi" says, it wasn't spirituality that saved a man but "western medicine," and what is more spiritual than being able to peer into the nature of a black hole or an atom, baseball cap or no? Exotic is in the eye of the beholder. Winning is not.
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
What about the truth?
And what about the fact that the truth tends to be exclusive?
That is, if one thing is true, frequently another, opposite thing cannot be true.

We live in a quantum universe, perhaps one of many in the same sheaf,
so, from a certain point of view, all contradictory things are possible,
depending on which god one follows.
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
Wouldn't a real tiger have eaten the kid?
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
I liked the movie. Loved the special effects. The ending was very good, imo. Especially if you like to think about things for a bit.

If you want all the answers handed to you on a platter, so that you don't need to think about anything, this isn't the movie you're looking for.If you expect your entertainment to match your expectations, assumptions, biases and preconceptions, this isn't the movie you're looking for.

If you like beauty, wonder, and thinking for yourself? Yeah. Go watch this one. You won't be wasting your time or your money.

Oscar worthy? Mebbe. I'd put Cloud Atlas up, first (just for the sheer audacity of the thing), with Life of Pi a close second.
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
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