Life of Pi

Life of Pi movie poster

On Monday of this week I saw Ang Lee’s movie Life of Pi based on Yann Martel’s book of the same name. I had not read the book but my mother had and really loved it so we went to see the movie together. Not having read the book, I knew the main situation was that of a boy named Pi somehow stranded on a lifeboat with a tiger after a shipwreck, but I didn’t know how the two found themselves in that situation or how they progressed from there but I thought it sounded interesting. I was pleased to learn that the story of Pi is a very interesting tale of faith, strength, and personal growth.

The movie opens with Pi as an adult talking with an author who was told to seek him out because he had “a story that would make you believe in God”. Pi begins by explaining to the man how he got his name, his youth in India as the son of a zookeeper, and his experiences with various religions. Raised Hindu, Pi eventually encounters Catholicism and Islam in India and sees both religions as additional ways of God revealing himself in addition to Hinduism. Pi’s father, who opposes to religion in favor of science, admonishes his son that accepting all faiths equally is essentially the same as having no faith at all and encourages Pi to start to think more critically about these religions to which he subscribes.

Throughout the story Pi discusses moments in which he believes he is in the presence of God or is experiencing some form of divine intervention. He sees God in the power of the storm, feels God’s saving hand time and again, etc. and the art department did a fantastic job illustrating these moments on film. Everything is beautiful and comes so close to being unrealistic, yet doesn’t feel too manufactured. The majesty and wonder of creation are incredibly portrayed in this film.

On that same note, the 3D effect was also very well-done. I’m not a big fan of 3D and while I think it’s fun and has certainly come a long way from the old days of bi-color glasses I don’t find it particularly realistic (most of the time it feels like it’s assaulting me and tending to go out of focus when things are moving fast) and rarely feel it adds to the film. In Life of Pi, however, I thought the effect was masterfully done and only once did it feel gimmicky (when the movie was suddenly letter-boxed just so a fish could “jump out of the frame” at the audience) so I give major credit to the designers behind this who made me forget I was watching a REAL-D 3D MOVIE rather than just a movie.

Life of Pi makes some interesting points about faith and religion but leaves them entirely up to the viewer to evaluate. Pi never says that he has chosen any faith to the exclusion of the others, nor does he necessarily encourage anyone to choose his beliefs, his father’s, or anyone else’s. The movie makes the case that faith is a personal journey that comes right down to how willing one is to believe in the extraordinary and it is this message that takes the movie from simply being good to being meaningful. I highly recommend it for its enjoyable story, stunning visuals, and thoughtful commentary.

 

Theatre Thursdays: ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ at the Pittsburgh CLO

This past Sunday I had the great pleasure of seeing Fiddler on the Roof performed at the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts in Pittsburgh PA. I have long loved this musical thanks to the spectacular film and as such was thrilled to finally get a chance to see the show live.

The curtain for the show was a painting of the town of Anatevka (the setting of the show) done in a style which reminded me somewhat of Marc Chagall’s which I found very appropriate since I’ve thought his works should be used as the poster art of the show ever since I learned about him. The theater was packed and the audience was very receptive. They were quick to laugh and applaud and that’s always nice and adds to the enjoyment of the show. Not that this show needed any help, however. The show was a joy from beginning to end and the Pittsburgh CLO once again proved itself a top-notch theatre group.

 

Lewis J. Stadlen played Tevye and had a great stage presence. He was hilarious and had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. The only criticism I can raise against his performance is that his emphasis on the comedy was so strong that the sincerity didn’t always show through which is so important to the role. Tevye’s love needs to be genuine and deep because as trite as this may sound, this show really is about love and throughout the story love is tried and challenged and at some points nearly broken. That is what makes this show so wonderful. This family grows and changes so significantly because of their romantic love for others and familial love for each other and never once does this seem hokey or forced.

The show is actually fairly feminist. For those unfamiliar with the story, Tevye has five daughters, the oldest three of whom are reaching marrying age.

Each of these three daughters challenge tradition and their patriarchal society, becoming stronger and more independent as they grow and learn. Granted, they do so in their choices of which man to marry and as such they may not exactly be shining examples of feminist ideals, but they are women who are fighting for their autonomy against the pressures of society and (in the context of the story) they were being quite revolutionary so I personally think they are admirable women of strength.

Another thing I love about this show is the religion. The majority of the characters are Jewish and their faith is very important to them. I always loved the way Tevye related to God, whom he addresses as a friend. He regularly converses with God which I find so admirable and refreshing. That kind of relationship with God isn’t usually represented. He talks to God, he complains, he thanks, and he jokes. I would hesitate to call his relationship with God casual because he is certainly respectful, but it’s not such a pious, regulated relationship as is often portrayed.

As I mentioned, in this show love is tried and tested and it’s especially clear in the love between Tevye and his daughters, Tzeitel, Hodel, and Chava. Each daughter challenges him more than the last in who she wants to marry and how she wants to do it. (Tzeitel picks her own husband, rejecting the man given by the matchmaker, but at least asks Tevye’s permission; Hodel picks a revolutionary student and doesn’t even request Tevye’s permission but hopes for his blessing; and finally Chava picks a man of another faith) Tevye learns to let go of many of his long-held prejudices and think critically about his own beliefs for the first time. He also learns where his breaking point is, as he struggles with some of his daughters’ choices.

The Pittsburgh CLO production portrayed these important issues beautifully and every cast member was excellent. My personal favorites were David Perlman as Motel (Tzeitel’s fiance) and Nick Verina as Perchik (Hodel’s fiance). Perlman was just plain funny and appealing. Motel’s a great character to play, starting off as a somewhat gutless comic relief but becoming stronger and braver thanks to Tzeitel and Perlman did a great job in his scenes. Perchik never stood out to me much in the film but seemed so much more important to the story in the play and I think at least part of that was thanks to Nick Verina’s performance. He was clearly bright and passionate and reminded me strongly of Enjolras from Les Miserables. Verina had a fire that made him seem important in every scene he was in.

I highly recommend this show. Its depiction of family, friendship, love, faith, and religion are fantastic. The Pittsburgh CLO production has closed but any time you can see this show you should really take the chance, I’m glad I got to see such a good production, but I’m even more glad just to have seen the show.