Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

03 September 2013

Kon-Tiki vs. Life of Pi

Apparently, I liked Life of Pi when I first saw it, and I guess I should stick with that opinion because I have no intention of re-watching the film. But last evening I sat down and watched Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg's Kon-Tiki and all I could do was compare it to Ang Lee's beloved film from last year.

First off, Kon-Tiki, unlike Life of Pi, is not a kids' film, and it doesn't have the kind of storytelling frame that Pi has, where the story is told to us by an unreliable narrator.

More importantly, Kon-Tiki is a true story, an actual historical event that took place in the late 1940s. Kon-Tiki is the tale of a group of six men who sailed from South America to the Polynesian islands – in other words: five thousand miles across the Pacific Ocean – on a raftKon-Tiki, though, always seems real. And I am sure that some of the film was done using CGI. I have no doubt of it, in fact, but it never looked fake. These guys are sailing the ocean on a raft and they look like they are in the ocean on a raft. (I don't know if you remember Life of Pi, but what with the fake tiger and the flying fish and the fake sunsets and the fake water and the fake animals, I never felt like I was in the real world at all.)

Kon-Tiki is an adventure/journey story, rather in the mode of Deliverance, The Way Back, or The Grey: so it is really a movie about testing the mettle of a group of men who are alone in the wild with no one to help them but their own ingenuity and a bunch of blind luck. It is gorgeously made, with impressive and immaculate costume design and a group of actors doing fine work, and I have to say I found most of it rather gripping.

Rønning and Sandberg's movie has its share of clichéd scenes – the terrified and useless Ned Beatty character from Deliverance is embodied in this case by a tubby refrigerator salesman played by Anders Baasmo Christiansen – but it also has a few filled with extraordinary tension. There is a sequence where the men literally grab a shark out of the ocean and eviscerate it on the raft that left me with my mouth gaping.

All in all, Kon-Tiki is something like Life of Pi for grown-ups. Kon-Tiki doesn't take the (child's) point of view that the world is magical; it looks at the Earth, thinks about it scientifically, and still finds the world wonderful.