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Written by: C. W. Booth

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty and The Life of Pi: One Christian’s Movie Reviews

For those who want the short version fast:

- Zero Dark Thirty is not family friendly, is sluggishly directed, and only engages the viewer in the story in the thirty minutes that depict the Bin Laden compound raid.

- The Life of Pi is an exotic imaginative and compelling tale, written and told in parable style, which will certainly entertain (and confuse) adults while frightening younger children with its implied animal violence.

The Longer Version: Zero Dark Thirty

For many viewers the theatrical and emotional impact of the movie will be ruined in the first several minutes of this film. Instead of using visuals to remind the audience of the horror of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and thus reinforce the motives of all the principal actors in this drama, all that is done is to replay some broadcast news audio of the day while the viewer watches a dark screen.

Though sound can be a wonderful sensory experience all on its own, it fails here since the predominant evocative emotional tie most of us have with 9/11 is in the visuals of the falling towers we saw ad nauseam years ago. Our notion of outrage and sorrow are not really surfaced, and thus we find it hard to connect with the painful and obsessive choices of the lead characters in this part-history part-fiction tale.

For a lengthy part of the movie the US intelligence services are depicted as blood thirsty merciless torturers. By this bone-chilling method of data gathering the heroine, a CIA field analyst, scrapes together the clues by which to locate the probable hiding place of Osama Bin Laden. At one point a male CIA agent is more distraught over the death of his pet monkeys than over the inhumane treatment of his captive terrorists. One wonders what message the director, writers, and producers were trying to convey about America.

Eventually, after a slowly plodding plot line that is lacking in clever or witty dialogue, the analyst succeeds, having dedicated her entire adult life to finding Bin Laden. The movie leaves no doubt that the director feels the goal of the mission was to assassinate Bin Laden, not to capture him. Nonetheless, the attack on the compound is the most interesting and human segment of the film. As an audience we are amused with the unveiling of the stealth helicopter at fabled Area 51 to the interaction of the marines who all confess they have been involved in previous helicopter crashes. Yet, ultimately we are made to feel sadness and sympathy for the hunted terrorists by the time the attack scenes are completed.

From start to end the movie is filled with foul and vile language. Graphic scenes of torture leave little to the imagination. The way the marines are depicted as committing cold blooded killings of Bin Laden, his wife, and his son are unsettling for jaded adults and are likely unsuitable for most pre-teens.

This is a most unsatisfying retelling of the story. Though the actors are generally quite compelling in their roles, which brings credit to those who cast the film, there is little else to commend regarding this tedious and ugly look at America’s intelligence efforts to bring terrorists to justice.

The Longer Version: The Life of Pi

There are no spoiler alerts in this review. I would not want to ruin the event for anyone planning on seeing it.

This is an entirely fictional story of a man from India named Pi (pronounced “pie” for our review purposes). His extraordinary adolescent life is capped by his shipwreck and being trapped on a lifeboat with a tiger who has a rather un-tiger-like name. A between-books writer interviews Pi to see if his story will make a sellable book.

From start to finish this movie is packed full of literary and visual symbols. My best wishes to those who will try to keep track of them and will attempt to decipher them all. At the end of the film the actors helpfully explain a few of the more obvious ones as they analyze the story for themselves as a highly relevant part of the plot.

Without apology this story holds itself out as a metaphysical examination of human nature, religion, happiness, sin, destiny, and human choices. My personal assessment of the meaning of the greater story is this: man is inherently sinful while simultaneously containing the spark of personal godhood and the true road to unhappiness is to settle for the limited truth of just one religion instead of embracing the goodness from them all, and sometimes self-delusion is the greatest of human good.

Oh, I do not at all agree with such a premise or life philosophy, but I feel that is what the over arching meaning of this movie was trying to convey. Of course, I may have missed the point of the story. Or not.

Everything about this film is either charming, engaging, or engrossing. It is visually stunning and pleasing in an exotic and dramatic way. Typical of human life it plays upon romance, loss of love, family closeness, death and tragedy, the struggle for survival, human sin, and the need to feel one’s life has been redeemed and useful. As such, the story evokes laughter, joy, tears, and sorrow, and introspection.

There is little or no profanity that I can recall, aside from a bit of youthful bullying regarding the title character‘s name. Virtually no sexual references are made and no nudity is displayed. Assuming controversial philosophical challenges are not objectionable to the viewer, the only aspect of the film likely to be deemed disagreeable are the frankly frightening scenes of a CGI tiger lashing out at the human actor and the violence of predation between animals. In short, young children are very possibly going to be scared silly at certain scenes.

This is not a Christian film, nor does it genuinely embrace true Christianity, though it does make free mention of Jesus as the Christ. It also makes free mention of the good points of numerous other religions. These religious outlines seem to be the setup to the main point of the tale (to embrace no single religion if one desires to be happy), culminating in the analogy and symbolism behind the island of life and death.

Treat the movie as an eastern parable without a Christian moral or orthodox doctrine and simply try to enjoy the experience as you attempt to unravel both the thinly and thickly veiled symbols and allusions. If nothing else, the visuals and the shallower plot line of living with a hungry tiger make the movie worth viewing. At worst you will decode the symbolism and will therefore rightfully hate the message and ideology of the movie but will have enjoyed the mental exercise of unraveling the analogies and will have been enthralled by the dramatic and entertaining visuals and cinematography.

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Post Script: Booth posted the following comment in response to a comment left by a reader:

Of course, the reason Pi needed his self-deceptive religion is because he was unable to resolve his feelings of guilt, remorse, loss, and worthlessness without it. So to keep his life productive and his mind balanced he fled to that hodge-podge of self-selected ideologies that made him feel better.

For Christians we would advise one to simply call on Christ in faith, repent, and accept genuine and lasting forgiveness from God, and let the fables and self-deceptions of self-made religions float away.

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Post Script: Booth posted the following comment in response to a comment left by a reader who wanted to know if he had offended Booth:

For all the years we have argued on this forum and you still don't know what actually offends me????? Don't you love me???? LOL

There are three kinds of offense:

1) biblical offense...I am tempted to sin the same way I saw you sin

2) personal offense...I am insulted that you did or said that to or about me

3) offended sensibilities...that was so vulgar, pedestrian, illogical, or ugly it offends my sense of good taste

I did not like the theology in Adjustment Bureau (and probably some of the language too, though I can no longer remember) but as such that is not in any of the above ways offensive. Merely because I do not like someone's theology or ideology does not mean they are offensive to me or that I will avoid them or their works. Let's be honest, converted Christians are in the extreme minority (about 10% or less when compared to cultural Christians and cultural religions in general), so if I were going to take offense at disagreements I would unable to leave my home.

Of course I know that some people do take personal offense at some things, like profanity, so I do my best to keep the blog family friendly (there is no reason for me to cause offense unnecessarily). But as for exploring ideas (within reason), bring it on.


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