Thursday, November 22, 2012

Life of Pi [2012]

MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  Roger Ebert (4 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB review
Roger Ebert's review

Life of Pi (directed by Ang Lee, screenplay by David Magee based on the best selling novel by the same name by Yann Martel [IMDb]) is certain to garner various nominations come Awards season at the end of the year including nominations for best picture, best director, best cinematography and best adapted screenplay.

The film is about Pi Patel (played by Irrfan Khan) recalling to a Canadian writer (played by Rafe Spall) the story of arrival in Canada from his native India via shipwreck at sea a story that the Canadian writer has been told will "make him believe in God."

Here readers of this blog ought to understand that the faith in God being offered is of a distinctly modern Indian / East Asian variety, one that Western Christians/Catholics of a more traditional bent would initially have difficulty in understanding.  Why?  Well India is a civilization with roots as old those of ancient Mesopotamia / Egypt (out of which the Abrahamic religions, including our own, came) and certainly older than those of Greece and Rome.  So anyone who's ever been friends with folks from India would know any discussion that does not give due respect to India's cultural (and therefore, in good part, religious) heritage is largely pointless.  Many/most Indians that the Westerner would meet in the West will simply dismiss the Westerner unless such respect is given.

So how does one talk to an Indian (or more generally East Asian) about religion?  (1) Honestly, ask an Indian (and even Indian Christian/Catholic, there are tens of millions of them, probably 1-2 families in your own parish, even if also spread over a land/cultural landscape of over a 1 billion people), and (2) Very much along the lines of the presentation in this film/book.  That is, one which cedes a relative equivalence of religious traditions that many Westerners would be (at least initially) surprised/uncomfortable with.  Welcome to a world of 8 billion people and even to the world that even Pope John Paul II knew quite well and _encouraged_ Catholics to engage in (JP II made _many_ references during his pontificate to St. Paul's preaching at the Aeropagus in Athens, Greece in the time of the Early Church and _encouraged us_ to do the same).  

So then Pi first tells the Canadian writer of his encounters with God in India as a child, saying that he first encountered God in the Hindu conception adding: "Well there are 30 million of them in the Hindu religion, so you're bound to run into a few of them eventually." :-) And he added, "They were the Superheroes of my youth." He then talks of his encounter with the Christian God _in the Catholic conception_ with a kind Indian Catholic priest explaining to him the central mystery of the Christian conception: "That God [TM] so loved the world that he _chose_ to give his Son for our salvation" (so that we could return to be in communion with him) (cf. John 3:16).  Like so many others of us who've ever reflected on the question, Pi wonders "Why would God do that? Give his only and _innocent_ son for us (the guilty)?"  And the Catholic priest answers in the most Orthodox of answers (across all times and ages) "out of love for us."  And Pi was impressed.  Finally, Pi also told the Canadian writer that he was also impressed with the Muslim tradition of _submission to God_ saying that he when he was kneeling down on his prayer rug saying his prayers (in the direction of Mecca no doubt) he felt that the ground below him was for that instant made holy (that in his submission to God, he was being sanctified).  All these are lovely and edifying insights for us all.  And let us remember that in the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on Non-Christian Religions, the Council did declare that the Church "rejects nothing which is true and holy in these [other] religions." (NA#2)

Pi's family ran a zoo in his home town in India.  At some point, when Pi was a teenager, Pi's father for reasons that are not entirely clear (but probably to give his sons a better life) receives permission to emigrate with his family to Canada, and decides to take the zoo's animals with him (to Canada) where they could sell the animals (presumably at a higher price).   During the course of the ocean voyage, the ship sinks in a storm, and after the storm clears, all who survived the storm is the (vegetarian) teenage Pi and ... a (flesh eating) bengali tiger ... in a lifeboat in the middle of a trackless ocean.   Much ensues ...

Remember that the promise of the story is that at the end of it, one's invited to believe in God.  Does it work?  I'll leave it to the viewers of the film to decide, but I will say that I have previously used a similar appeal in my preaching, at house blessing and in the course of marriage prep as well:  Today people are, in fact, able to _choose to believe_ (or to _not believe_) and lead their lives accordingly.  (Hopefully)  it should be clear that I do _choose to believe_ (and I do actually in fair part for the same reason that this story offers... ;-).  But I won't say more here other than say ... if you wish, go see the film ;-)

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