Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Believing the Lie

Today, we're going with a themed approach. First up is the new short story by Rusty
I got a first look at this one as I did the editing on it. However, that doesn't stop me from being able to give an objective review (no matter what Amazon thinks).

What I can say for sure is that it's definitely worth a read, and you can get it here. (Check out that awesome editorial credit!) I mean, for $0.99, it's more than worth it.

"Going Home" is a solid story about a man who has chosen a lie over the truth. When you get to the end, you can begin to understand why. To me, it's interesting because of those times when people willfully choose to believe lies rather than face the truth, something that is much more common than we like to believe. It's not long. It's not that deep, but it does reveal that those depths exist. It raises a lot of questions, not the least of which is "wait! what happens next?" Carl is good at stories that leave you wanting to know more, and this one is no exception.

Next up is Life of Pi, which I finally got around to watching. I was less than impressed.

Sure, it was full of great visuals. Amazing visuals, even, but those don't make the story. [It's the same reason I could never follow a crappy story in a comic book just because it had good art (Spawn).] The story in Pi was very much lacking. The only reason it gets such a "wow, that was so deep" response is that it's one of those stories (the movie for sure and probably the book (though I haven't read the book)) that people can't figure out. Rather than say "I don't understand," they instead say, "that's so deep." Especially the critics, who can never just admit that something doesn't make any sense. Vague symbolism is always a sure way to baffle the critics into saying something is great. [One of my college professors was the same way. The sure way to getting an "A" from him on a paper was to write something beyond his understanding or deliberately vague enough that it seemed beyond his understanding. Rather than say "I don't know what you're saying here" or "This doesn't make any sense," he'd just put an "A" on it.]

However, the biggest problem with that aspect of the movie is that there is a message in there, revealed twice during the movie but obfuscated rather than just stated plainly: believing a lie is better than believing nothing. Or, as it's put forth at the end, "It's better to believe a beautiful lie rather than an ugly truth." That's a sorry message to be delivering and one I just can't get behind. No matter how pretty the package it's wrapped in, and Pi is a pretty package with beautiful bows and ribbons. It's not enough to disguise the ugly truth of the movie, though. Well, maybe, actually, it is. For most people.

The other big issue I have with the movie is that I hate (I mean I absolutely can not stand) getting to the end of a story just to find out that it didn't happen. [I mentioned this same thing in my review of Looper.] Don't waste my time with a story about a story that didn't happen. Don't have it turn out to be a dream. Don't have it turn out to be a time loop that gets closed off so that none of it happened. Don't have it turn out to be a hallucination to cover up something that the character can't handle. You've wasted my time at that point.

And, in Life of Pi, it reduces the only interesting part of the movie to the 30-40 minutes that happen before the storm. Then it's over. And that was hardly a story and one in which nothing really happened other than that someone survived a horrible stranding at sea.

And, sure, you can get all wrapped up in discussions about whether the tiger was God or what the heck was that island supposed to be, anyway, or whether he just made up the story he told the insurance people about the cook just so that they would have something they could grasp, but none of it matters. It doesn't matter because of the statement, "Which is the better story, and wouldn't you rather believe that thing than believe the truth?"

So, yeah, sure, Pi was pretty. It deserved the awards it got for those aspects of the movie, but it certainly wasn't a "best directed" movie. It was a hardly directed movie. I'm glad I watched it; I even kind of wish I'd seen it on the big screen just for some of the scenes on the ocean; but I don't think it was a great movie. It might look all deep when looking down on it, but, if you put your feet in, you'll find it's just a wading pool.


  1. Sorry Life of Pi was a letdown for you. Going Home sounds like a nice yet kind of mysterious story.

  2. My kids said I should not see Life of Pi because I will need an entire box of Kleenex.

  3. I have Rusty's book on my iPad.
    See I got a different message from Life of Pi. It DID happen the way he told it, but when they didn't believe him, he told an ugly story that was believable. He found his faith on that journey, which was an awesome message.

  4. What about "The Usual Suspects?"

    I'm not crazy about "it was a dream" stories, but there are situations where "the story didn't happen" actually means it did.

    "Looper," which I never saw, sounds like it was that kind of story. If a guy goes back in time and has all these crazy adventures and then at the end someone "closes the loop" so it never happened, a proper view of time is that it DID happen and then did not, after all, so the story was true and then was not. That's an interesting concept, and one that I enjoy about time travel stories: what happened, and what is the truth?

    "The Usual Suspects" was different: nothing in that story actually HAPPENED, by your standards: there was no Kaiser Soze. But the revelation at the end makes it enjoyable because not only did you get the cool action-y movie, but you realize that the REAL story is so much more interesting.

    I don't know what to say about Pi on that issue. I haven't read the book or seen the movie. But if the story is Pi telling a beautiful lie to avoid the truth, does that make it better for you? The issue of whether a fantasy world is real -- or whether a story is just a story -- has been worked over in the "Narnia" books, and "The Princess Bride," to name just a few.

  5. Rusty's story is great.

    I think Alex is right about Pi. I haven't seen the movie, but I read the book last year and I never got the feeling it didn't happen. My problem with the book was it took so danged long to get him on the boat.

    You could have made the argument that "Terminator 2" was one of those movies where it turns out not to have happened (at least until they made a 3rd one), but the reason to enjoy stories like those is that whether or not you can fight your fate is an interesting concept that's been around since Oedipus Rex.

  6. What Pat said. I intend to read Rusty's book.

  7. Sheena: It's not really very mysterious. Pretty straight forward alien invasion. Well, except for that one thing.

    JKIR,F!: My wife didn't cry during it, so it can't be that bad.

    Alex: I think you could almost go with that except for two things:
    1. What his father said to him about believing something even if it was a lie.
    2. His question to the writer: which is the better story?

    Briane: I think the difference for me is the knowledge of the character.
    In Narnia, the kids know what they experienced. That makes it "true" even if it's not as Susan later claimed.
    In Pi, you have a character that knows the truth but is choosing to "believe" something that is not. It's like that guy in The Matrix that wants to be plugged back in.

    Pat: I'm okay with it when the thing that didn't happen happens in order to make something not happen, if that makes any sense.

    Michael: Well, get on that.

  8. Well, I'll respond to your comment on my blog with another comment on your blog:

    I never liked the idea of Looper, for a variety of reasons, including that the use of time travel made no sense for what I'm told was the story. Why would the mob have a time machine and use it only to kill people? Why would killing people in the past make sense? ARGH. I hate hearing that movie.

    I think your problem with Pi was more that the story was dumb, not that it was false. Like everything, people have to have a good reason for their stories.

    I had a similar problem with "The Village" by M. Night Shymalan. Being one of his movies, I expected a twist, but to find out that the story of the monster in the woods was a lie, and that the village itself was simply an enclosed compound, wrecked it a bit too much for me. It was twists simply for the point of twists.

    So I guess I'd end up with: a story can be made up and entirely fictional if the use of that made-up and entirely fictional story serves a larger narrative purpose. Unlike Dallas' "It was all a dream" season, which seemed to simply be a lazy way out of a weird storyline -- and like Newhart's "It Was All A Dream" ending episode, where the stakes were lower and the fact that the entire show turned out not to be false made it sort of funny, in the end.

    So if Pi's making the story up was simply lazy storytelling, I'm with you. But I suppose I'd have to see it, to be sure, and I doubt I will since I've never heard anything good about it.

    As for Narnia: WAS it real? The fact that there were stories that didn't include the Pevensies suggests that (for purposes of the story) Narnia was real, but the fact that the Pevensies were so much older when they were there, and time didn't pass when they were there, and they couldn't go there when they got older in our world, suggests it was not.

  9. Briane: I think my problem with Pi is more that the omitted story is more interesting than the made up one. And, then, there's the part where, if I had been the guy listening and some dude had just spent a couple of hours telling me some story just to say at the end "well, that didn't really happen, but I like to believe it did," I'd be pissed off at having my time wasted.

    I knew fairly early on in The Village that it was modern day and the whole thing about spirits or whatever was a lie. I thought it was okay, unlike Lady in the Water.

    I think the thing that gives "realness" to Narnia is The Last Battle. I think that is the book where Lewis is telling us "yes, Narnia is real."

  10. I'm with you on Looper--I was very unsatisfied and disappointed.

    Like Alex I had a different take than you concerning Life of Pi. To me there was nothing exceptionally deep or complex about the story which made it a good analogy to the God existence story. We accept the story of God with faith or we reject it and try to find all sorts of ways to refute it and come up with more plausible explanations. I liked Pi for the visuals and the story, but I thought it offered a good argument for its primary premise.

    Wrote By Rote

  11. Lee: Your suggestion about the story, then, also backs up what Pi's father said and what I'm saying: The story about Pi in the boat with the tiger is only "true" insomuch as you believe it is while not actually being fact. In that sense, I think it is a rather lame attempt at showing that God is real, because the implication of the movie, then, is that God is only "real" if you believe he is and, otherwise, he is not.

    I dislike that. Either God is a fact and, therefore, Real, or God is not a fact and, therefore, just a story. He is not both "not a fact" and "real."

  12. To follow up - so you don't have to come back to my blog yet again - sometimes a tiger is just a tiger. I never got that the tiger was God. I took it at face value - it was the story of Pi finding his faith. And often, that journey is a little messy.
    I believe God is real and God is fact. That's the strength of my belief and what I know to be true.
    We all interpret stuff differently. And that's all right.
    Oh, and I really disliked The Village. Completely implausible.

  13. That's not what I'm saying though. My suggestion is that the initial story told by Pi is fantastical, complex, question evoking, and hard to believe if we take it for what it is. But this story (the story of God's existence) is the truth, but in order to accept this truth to combat doubt then we must have faith that it is true. Belief or not, God's existence is true for all. though all may not accept that He exists. The fact that some don't believe doesn't negate existence, but it makes the non-believer reject, refute, and try to deny that existence and attempt to create their own system of faith in a story that makes more sense to them when they reason by human and Earthly laws.

    I think Life of Pi is essentially a philosophical parable or explanation of what belief is and what belief is grounded in. The premise is simplistic, but after all it's only a movie that tells a fairy tale like story. I don't know if the book gets into any deeper levels, but a movie is constrained by time and the perceptions of the audience. This film entertained me for a couple of hours and left me with something to think on. It all made total sense to me from my point of view on the matter. I couldn't help but think of all the explanations that atheists and certain scientists give to try to debunk God and Christian beliefs.

    Wrote By Rote

  14. Wow, wish I had time to read all the comments because it looks like you generated quite the discussion...
    I'm so with you on critics not understanding something and calling it deep...
    I haven't seen Pi, or Looper, but my 16 year old saw Looper, knows me, and says that it would drive me crazy. I believed him and haven't used my precious time on it. Pi has fascinated me because how can you have a tiger and a man/boy on a boat for two hours and hold everyone's attention? Sounds to me like the emperor has no clothes. I feel like we've gotten to know each other a bit lately, and I'm perfectly comfortable taking your word on this subject :-)
    Tina @ Life is Good

  15. My perception of Life of Pi was that it was about a young boy who used elements of his psyche as a coping mechanism -- much like in, 'Where the Wild Things are,' which (in my opinion) was a highly under-rated movie that deserved the awards that Life of Pi received.

  16. I didn't examine the Life of Pi too closely because I don't have an urge to see the movie or read the book, but your friend Rusty's book sounds very interesting. I am fascinated about the part of the human condition (we will willingly believe lies, even though it's heartbreaking, because to believe a lie is to acknowledge you KNOW it's a lie. There will always be inner turmoil because somewhere in your mind, you know the truth. Compelling stuff. I'm off to check out his book! Thanks

  17. Hey Andrew, great discussion! I loved Life of Pi! The book was amazing. Pat mentioned that he thought Yann Martel took too long to get Pi into the boat, but I disagree. The first part of the book told us a lot about animal behaviour, the search for faith, meaning..all that stuff...it really told us much about Pi, his family, and his life in Pondicherry. He did not come from a religious home, as his parents rejected religion in favour of science, progression and facts.
    I agree with what Alex said, I never thought that the tiger story didn't happen, but that the insurance agents thought he must be making it up, so he invented a tale of human brutality, because that is something they could believe.
    I also agree with Lee that the movie entertained me, and definitely sat with me for a time afterwards, (not as long a time as the book sat with me though), but I respectfully disagree that god is a fact whether we believe or not.

  18. Alex: Well, sure, but not in a novel like this. Literary novels are never face value kinds of things. My wife doesn't agree with me about the tiger, either. But, really, the tiger is just a side issue to the point the movie is making, which is "Which story is better?"

    Lee: I think you're making the presumption that the author believes the same thing as you, though, and, if so, that would make sense. If you just look at the movie, though, and what is presented in the movie, you can't approach it that way. You have to go off of the information that's being offered, which is that Pi believed everything and, therefore, nothing. Well, trying to make this point is going to take too long and just re-covers ground I already went over. I'll just say this: having not read the book, I don't think the movie starts with the presumption that God it Truth.

    Tina: The emperor definitely doesn't have any clothes, but, then, I don't expect he actually needs to have them.

    Hayley: Exactly. he couldn't cope with what happened after the ship sank, so he made up something he could deal with.

    Jean: Yeah, that's true. Personally, I have trouble with the idea that people will disregard facts in order to believe something they just want to believe.

    Eve: Again, I don't know about the book, but it was the first part of the movie that I found interesting. I found the parts with him floating on the boat distinctly less interesting.
    I'd like to say that I'd read the book just to see how it's all presented there, but I know I'm not going to.
    And you're disagreeing with Lee's statement about God, right? Not something I said (because I will have to figure out what I said if you're disagreeing with me).

  19. Actually I made no presumptions about the author's beliefs, but only that he was apparently presenting a case in the form of a story. I had heard that Ang Lee is an agnostic (or was it atheist?) so with that information in hand I took it that he to was presenting the story argument.

    I saw the film as essentially one of the philosophical arguments to prove the God side of the existence debate. This is stated at the beginning when the character of the writer says that he came to hear Pi's story that would make him believe in God. I think there is more of a presumption of doubt in God's existence in the beginning of the movie and Pi presents the pro-God case with his story.

    I don't know that we are clearly shown where Pi has ended up in his own quest for Truth. In his story he tells how when he was searching for Truth he delved into several religions. I don't think it was so much a matter that he believed in nothing. He seems to have come to a conclusion early on that God exists, but his next quest is to discover if there is any one way to God. Is that question ever answered by the end? I don't recall hearing that, but this is where my presumptions might kick in based on what I would like to believe. But that's just me carrying the story past the ending that was presented to me.

    A Faraway View
    An A to Z Co-host blog

  20. Lee: The believing in nothing part comes from what his father tells him: if you try to believe in everything, you believe in nothing. Because Pi was trying to worship, essentially, all religions. That's also when his father tells him it's better to believe something that isn't true as long as you have something you believe in. I think this conversation carries great weight in the movie, especially considering that Pi later gives great thanks for all that his father taught him.

    At any rate, as I said to Alex, we could go back and forth about the specifics forever.

  21. I was going to bring up The Usual Suspects but Briane beat me to it. In general, I agree that "it was all just a dream" endings are a bit of a cop out. But TUS works for me. The story he tells is SO good, the revelation at the end is a wonderful wrinkle to add some spice. Of course, top-quality screenwriting never hurts.

    The Wizard of Oz is an interesting case along these lines. In the movie, it's a dream but in the book it's not - yet I prefer the film.

    I haven't seen Pi but I did read the book. In this particular case, I agree with you completely.

  22. TAS: I don't think Oz was a dream in the movie. Even as a kid, I didn't think it was a dream. It was one of those things where, maybe, you're supposed to wonder, or Dorothy is supposed to wonder, but I was never left with the impression that it was a dream.

    And it's also not a case of making something up just because you don't want to deal with the truth.

  23. When I got to the end of Pi, my reaction was "if he made it all up, what was the point of all that?" The idea of a tiger running loose in the Mexican jungle was far more satisfying.

  24. TAS: Yeah, that was my reaction, too, except that I get that all of that was a metaphor for religion or God. But, still, basically a waste of time at that point. I didn't need the huge metaphor to explain what his father said at the dinner table.