Saturday, December 01, 2012

Fresh Starts

I saw The Life of Pi today, and even knowing vaguely what the book was about (I don't read an overwhelming about of contemporary literature, and hadn't read this one), I wasn't prepared for the harrowing emotional experience I felt while watching the narrative unfold. I adore Ang Lee as a director, and he didn't disappoint, but the story of a young man and a tiger lost at sea, the young man having lost everything else, was brutal. The angry sea, the shipwreck, the lives taken by the water, the inescapable fear.

I thought certain parts of it, in which the boy takes in the lessons of many different religions and synthesizes something out of them for himself, was interesting. Having a friend who has written academic papers at length on Vishnu and the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, the references to Vishnu on the Cosmic Ocean were familiar, as was Krishna. I have been to religious festivals in India, and seeing the people and the lights and the gods brought back happy memories. I loved it when the young Pi questioned the priest about why God would send his Son to suffer for us, and Pi kept retuning to ask more questions, looking up at the Stations of the Cross in the church in the hills near the tea plantations.

There were layers upon layers of meaning in the film; as A.O. Scott said in a discussion of narrative in film recently, it's both a reminiscence and a fable, "about the nature of storytelling itself." Given the Indian context of the story, I was surprised not to have Buddhism in the religion mix. With all the animals around, I was reminded of the jataka tales, or stories about the previous lives of the Gautama Buddha in which he lived as various animals and performed good works.

I also thought much about aloneness and making hard choices, losing faith (or perhaps gaining it), and not wanting to be alone and obscure: your narrative, oral or otherwise left untold. And now, thinking about it, it is interesting that the Indian man from Pondicherry shared his story as an oral narrative while the white man will be the one to write it down. Hmmm.

As much as I like my solitude, the kind of solitude endured by Pi and Richard Parker was terror inducing. There were moments when I couldn't watch at all, and crouched with my head in my lap. It was more triggering than any film I have seen since I cannot remember.

Worse for me even than Mother and Child.

And yet there are such strands of pleasure and the sublime in it that I can relate to on both visceral and intellectual levels that I cannot stop thinking about it.

The ending made me think of fresh starts and personal narratives and how stories are told are "preferable" by one group or another. There is always something lost in the telling, no matter how you weave your story; it is most important, however, that your story have meaning for you.

And so ends November. I doubt that I shall have the fortitude to blog every day in December, but I shall try not to be overwhelmed by personal lassitude wrought by National Adoption Awareness Month.

ETA: I posted this last evening, at 11:45, but Blogger failed me. So it turns up as a December 1 post. It is a fresh start.