--Yann Martel, Life of Pi
I remember reading the novel Life of Pi several years ago, when it first came out. I was working at Borders books in Brea. A year earlier, I'd had a major nervous breakdown and left college in Seattle and returned home to live with my parents and try to put the pieces of my life back together. It was a rough time.
Reading this novel was an encouragement to me. I'd recently been diagnosed with major depressive disorder and life felt bleak. I was taking random ass classes at Fullerton College, mostly so I could keep my parents' health insurance to help pay for my various medications and therapy. At the time, only a few things made sense to me: reading, writing, and art. I would spend much of my time writing in Mead composition books, painting in my garage, and reading authors like Dostoyevsky. Mostly, though, what I spent most of my time doing was suffering like a sonofabitch.
Yann Martel's novel Life of Pi spoke to me. It was about a boy who'd lost everything and wound up on a life boat in the middle of the Pacific ocean with a live bengal tiger. It felt like a fairly accurate metaphor for what I was going through. Depression isolates you, turns you inward toward all the dark and scary places inside yourself. It's absolutely fucking awful.
But the story of this Indian boy who'd been severely traumatized by life and yet still clung to life despite everything was an inspiration to me. And it wasn't a Hallmark kind of inspiration that doesn't acknowledge the pain and suffering that is almost always a necessary part of real happiness. It was a true inspiration, inspiration of the Fyodor Dostoyevsky sort--inspiration born out of suffering. I read that novel and this is the passage that I will never forget, that remains burned in my mind forever:
“My face set to a grim and determined expression. I speak in all modesty as I say this, but I discovered at that moment that I have a fierce will to live. It's not something evident, in my experience. Some of us give up on life with only a resigned sigh. Others fight a little, then lose hope. Still others - and I am one of those - never give up. We fight and fight and fight. We fight no matter the cost of battle, the losses we take, the improbability of success. We fight to the every end. It's not a question of courage. It's something constitutional, an inability to let go. It may be nothing more than life-hungry stupidity.”
I don't often cry during movies, but I sometimes cry when reading books, and I definitely cried when reading that. Life if Pi is one of those novels I will carry with me forever, in my soul.
So imagine my delight when I heard that Ang Lee, the famous Chinese director of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain (and The Hulk, a film I'm in the minority of people who like) had made a film adaptation of Life of Pi. I didn't see the movie in theaters. Maybe I was a little afraid that, like so many adaptation of novels I love, the movie would ruin the book.
But tonight, I rented Ang Lee's adaptation of Life of Pi, and I was blown away. The emotion, the spirituality, the suffering...it was all beautifully captured. But the most astonishing achievement of the film was its use of digital technology. These days, digital effects (CGI) is almost synonymous with blockbusters, explosions, monsters. Think Transformers, or The Avengers. But in Life of Pi, digital effects were not used for a cheap "wow" factor, but as a means of creating art. The digital effects did not numb my brain, but stimulated it, inspired it.
The scenes of the flying fish, the floating island with thousands of meer cats, the sperm whale leaping out of a phosphorescent ocean--all these were visual art. I was reminded, once again, why I first loved the book years ago.