I really enjoyed Life is Beautiful, so why was I so pissed off?
Deception in Movies:
Most stories have some kind of deception. Someone lies or holds back the truth or misleads, that’s where drama comes from. Half the drama on those silly WB shows is because someone didn’t tell someone something (seriously, Clark, tell Chloe already).
Deception of the audience also is common. It usually makes a good movie great. Some of the best movies ever are iconic for their surprise endings. You thought The Sixth Sense was just about a guy helping a kid, and then you find out it is so. much. more.
You thought The Others was a ghost story…
You thought Tyler Durden was a little crazy…
You thought there was just a little magic in The Prestige..
You thought Verbal Kint was a foolish cripple…
You thought John Doe was crazy and evil…
(why do so many of these movies have Kevin Spacey or Brad Pitt?)
You’re glad you’ve been deceived because the payoff is more than you were expecting from the movie.
Sometimes the audience is treated to an “it was all a dream” ending. These have always been the most frustrating to me. The frustration level depends on the reason for the deception, the payoff.
The Deception in Life is Beautiful:
In Life of Pi, a character is deceiving the audience primarily. Rafe Spall’s character isn’t really being deceived, and he’s really just a stand-in for the audience anyway.
Throughout the movie we are treated to an intense, but grand spectacle of a boy’s survival through harsh conditions, only to find out at the end that the true story is quite different, much more horrific, and actually, doesn’t really matter.
Like I said, I drew a connection to Life is Beautiful.
LIB is about an adult trying to save the innocence of a child. We, the audience, are in on it. We think this is a noble task. Eventually every person must face evil in the world and in him or herself, but the consensus is that the character in LIB is too young to face this. We are complicit in the father’s deceptions because they are in the boy’s best interests. They are motivated by protection.
To illustrate my point regarding LIP, let me describe LIB from another perspective:
The series of your perception of the story:
1. The previews depict a child playing a fantastical game in a mysterious city.
2. You go to the movie and it seems to be about a boy’s amazing and mysterious childhood.
3. His father is a magical, happy man inventive, and clever. The boy sees mystery and magic all around him.
4. There’s bright colors and light. Maybe there’s a few circus animals. There’s a little struggle, but the boy is strong and he makes it through. The boy is expecting an amazing gift, and YOU as the audience member, know that something amazingly breathtaking will happen to the boy at the end of the movie.
7. You feel either a little betrayed or extremely betrayed.
And sometimes they change how you think about the entire story that led up to them.
Is it Worth the Payoff?
Contrary to LIB, in Life of Pi we are not complicit in the deception. The deceiver IS the young boy, now grown. You’d think he would be old enough to face the evils in the world at this point, but he’s refusing to do so, AND he wants you to go along for the ride.
Picture the kid in LIB, 40 years later, which do we expect him to say as a mature adult?
“my dad protected me from the horrors of the holocaust and gave his life so I would survive”
“my dad played a fun game with me when I was little, also he and his friends made me a tank, but I wasn’t allowed to keep it”
Ursula Le Guin is pretty much my favorite author. She writes science fiction and fantasy that will change your life. I remember an interview or article where she was discussing the type of person that dresses up like a hobbit or tries to act like a wizard or otherwise immerses himself in an imaginary world. She has little respect for that type of person and said, “Fantasy is where we go to understand our lives, not where we go to live our lives.”
A boy devising and telling a fantastical tale involving wild animals to help him deal with and process the wildness in others and himself is a noble thing.
A man still telling the story as if it were true AND asserting that the fact that he can simply “choose which story he prefers” somehow gives a clue into the nature of God (i.e. Ultimate Reality) is baffling, frustrating, and kind of sad.
Did I Like It?
Kinda, let me explain:
Then I was frustrated and confused. Then I thought about it for a long time. Then I looked up information about the book and movie on the internet. I read discussion boards about what “and so it is with God” might mean. I thought about whether I agreed with God being like that. I thought about other movies. I started writing this in my head. Through all of this thinking, I haven’t thought about the first 90% of the movie at all.
I love THAT it made me think. I love processing things. I love making connections and analyzing things.
I loved the experience of watching the movie.
I loved the 3D
If I were to watch it again I’d stop it right after Richard Parker left.
I wouldn’t show it to my son until he’s old enough to realize it’s a bunch of hooey.
My wife thinks it would be deception on my part if I didn’t also say that part of my frustration at the end of the movie was due to the four kids and their parents who loudly were asking and answering questions throughout the movie despite us “shhhhh-ing” them repeatedly.