Saturday, November 24, 2012


I love movies — even the bad ones that vanish from my brain when the closing credits start to roll. But special affection is reserved for those few films that linger for weeks, months, even years.

There aren't many. Seven come to mind: Brazil, Spirited AwayPulp Fiction, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Blue VelvetLa Jetée, The Royal Tenenbaums. They are old friends, and like the best people in life they are sources of never-ending revelations. They consistently surprise and delight.

Life of Pi joins that list — but not for any immediate or obvious reason. The story unfolds in leisurely fashion, and the novel by Yann Martel is certainly better (as is true for almost any novel turned into a film).

But sitting there with the 3D shades, I felt waves of emotion build and roil in me before breaking the surface. Several times I felt like crying; several other times I felt a click of connection as the actor playing Pi as a teen used his intelligence and desperation to reason with the tiger sharing his boat. Talk all you want about knockout CGI and 3D gimmicks (and they are incredible); the most believable part of the film came from the actors.

Even that's not enough to make most films reverberate in my chest.

Most curious is this fact: Life of Pi is only one day old in my brain and it has grown enormously in that time, causing me to think (rethink) about faith and confidence, about the boundaries of love and common sense, about the art of storytelling. The novel did it to me when I first read it, but not to this extent. I can close my eyes and I am back in the dark theater, mesmerized by the ideas and ideals leaping from the screen into my head. It's as evocative as the D5 chord that Pete Townshend strikes to start "The Kids Are Alright," as unique as the shijosho that's struck to start a period of zazen, or the similar inner bell that sounds to signal an irrevocable change in one's heart.

Going to see Life of Pi was a last-minute idea, a whim that was quirky enough to get attention. If I hadn't seen it on Friday night I might well have waited until it came out on DVD. That would have been a great loss. I'll buy it when it's released for the small screen, sure. But for the rest of my days (and I hope there are many) I will remember the night after Thanksgiving 2012, and how a film opened my eyes to the truth of Yann Martel's words: fear is life's only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life.

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