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

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.


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

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