Last Sunday I watched the Oscars, hoping Life of Pi would win many awards, if not Best Picture. A few nights before, I had stayed up until 4am watching the film twice in a row, and then I watched it again in the student lounge the next day. (Let’s just say, I’m a little obsessed with it.)
Before you continue, be aware that I give away some of the plot points in this review.
Although Life of Pi did not win Best Picture, the film won the most awards out of any other nominees this year, taking home Best Cinematography, Visual Effects, Director, and Original Score.
This led me to reflect on why I loved Life of Pi and perhaps why it resonated with so many other people as well. Last summer, I had started reading the book but I couldn’t get into it. I knew the basic story line already, and I wasn’t intrigued. I had not been excited about the movie either until Dr. Swanson (Biblical Studies professor at Providence) highly recommended it.
In one sentence, I love Life of Pi because it is sublime.
I use the word sublime to mean something so incredible and beautiful that it is both terrifying and attractive. As I sat alone in my room with headphones on, knees to chest, eyes wide, taking in all these images, I was terrified and at the same time fascinated by everything Pi was experiencing.
The filming is so engaging that it brings the audience into the situation of Pi, on a raft in the middle of the Pacific ocean with a full grown Bengal tiger, facing raging storms, massive sea creatures, gold sunsets, billowing clouds, and black nights where the water glows with thousands of jelly fish. Despite the fantastical and unbelievable occurrences in the movie, the vividness of the filming made me feel like I was there with Pi.
The film climaxes at a scene called “The Storm of God.” Pi and the tiger, Richard Parker, are not friends but they have learned how to respect each other and live with one another. Pi lives on a make-shift raft that he constructed attached by rope to the bigger raft that Richard Parker inhabits.
As the storm approaches, Pi pulls in his canned waters, biscuits, and his survival guide booklet that he uses as a journal but before he can grab everything, the storm rolls in. Pi’s most prized possession, his journal, is carried away by the wind. Pi and Richard Parker are cowering in the raft, being tossed by the waves.
Then Pi glances up and sees lightning cracking the sky. Pi cries out, “Praise be to God! Richard Parker, you have to see this! It’s beautiful! Don’t hide yourself. He’s come to us! It’s a miracle! Come out and see God!” Richard Parker is terrified, and still cowering and growling, fighting to stay grounded in the slippery tossed raft.
Pi catches Richard Parker’s eyes, and screams with his face toward the heavens, “Why are you scaring him? I’ve lost my family! I’ve lost everything! What more do you want from me! I surrender!” Just then, the smaller raft carrying all of Pi’s food, canned water, and supplies disconnects from the larger raft and Pi can do nothing but hang onto the boat until the storm passes.
The whole scene is dreadful. My heart was pounding as I watched it, but at the same time I was with Pi in awe of the massive waves and the lighting through the clouds. The audience feels the sorrow of Pi’s heart having lost not only his family but his means of survival, yet they also feel the overwhelming beauty of the storm.
The cinematography of particularly this scene, but also the entire movie, expresses what I fail to say adequately in words. Moments of sublimity are experienced but cannot be fully articulated. The sublime shows the glory of God.
Those moments where we feel very small and helpless, yet are surrounded by the vast beauty of God’s creation and are overwhelmed by it to the point where we cannot deny God is there and we must give up all control over ourselves. These are moments of broken worship.
This is why I call Life of Pi sublime and why I love this movie and could watch it many times again (preferably on a bigger screen than a computer and better quality than a bootleg version). The film well deserved all the awards it won, and if you haven’t seen it, please do.