Sunday, July 21, 2013

Movie Review: Ship of Theseus

I went to watch 'Ship of Theseus' today, but only after browsing many reviews on the internet and looking at the trailer. At that time, it seemed very interesting, but also seemed to have the potential to turn into a very boring documentary type movie. Wouldn't have been the first time that critically acclaimed movies turn out to be, well, not that great. I decided to take a risk and go and find out for myself how this movie is, primarily because I liked the trailer a lot.

And 15 minutes into the movie, the reviews all turn out to be true and I have a small smile on  my face as I'm settled in and, for the first time, completely engrossed mentally in a movie. It's like exercise for your brain, watching this movie. No mental relaxation and such things.

ALERT : SPOILERS AHEAD : You can directly skip to the last stanza if you want to avoid them.

We start with a short telling of the riddle of the Ship of Theseus, very intriguing, and then jump into the movie.

First is the story of the foreigner (Arabic) blind photographer. She clicks photos guided by the sounds she hears, operates Photoshop with a software that says everything out loud for her, including a multi-digit number for every shade in her photos, and has a gadget which she points at objects so that the gadget can tell her what color the object is. And not just our basic colors, of course. And she does not believe that she is at any kind of a disadvantage, compared to the rest of us.

To me, the most interesting part of this story was the relationship between her and her boyfriend. It seemed too wonderful to be true. Even their fight was idealistic and wonderful. Also spotted in the movie is an ophthalmologist from the city (we used to study under him, he is a real life ophthalmologist) who conducts a cornea transplant for her. The girl gets back her vision, and apparently simultaneously loses her talent to take great shots. She has problems adjusting to her new life as a seeing person, and then ultimately finds peace on a river bed near the Himalayas. (Or maybe that is how I understood it, not too sure). Here we are treated to a perfectly framed scene of serene natural beauty, and allowed to watch it for long seconds, till it gets a little unnerving.

The second story, my favorite, is about a monk, who is very obviously Jain. He is a very modern and well educated monk, not like anyone you will meet in real life. On coming home I quizzed my Mom about the attire of the sadhus and some differences I noticed, curious to find out which sect of Jainism they were depicting, but Wikipedia later informed me that it is a fictitious religion based upon the principles of Jainism. Oh, well.

The monk is fighting a legal battle to enforce ethical regulations in experimentation over animals by pharmaceutical companies. We are shown scenes of him saving a centipede and observing rabbits being tested for no-tears shampoo. His lawyer/disciple asks him a lot of questions about his principles, and here is some of the movie's wittiest dialogue, and one of the deepest discussions on Jain philosophy I have ever come across.To see this on the silver screen seems to be a miracle in itself.

However, I imagine to people hearing these concepts for the first time, it must have all sounded very strange. The entire basic Jain philosophy is summed up in a song the monk sings in Prakrit, while we read the English translations. The depiction of a monk's life is very wonderful and quite accurate, and some of the best shots of the movie, cinematographically, come in this story. We see them begging for alms and going on their vihaar barefoot. In another memorable scene, this in the background, a young Jain monk is shown under the microscope, evidence for many of the rules of his religion - moving live microorganisms. There is also a dialogue where rebirth into various lower life forms, including microbes and insects,is described in an absolutely wonderful way. You will start looking forward to being reborn as such things, if you pay enough attention :D

 The paradox in this story comes when the monk is diagnosed with liver cirrhosis, and to be able to live, he would need a liver transplant and lots of drugs, by the very same companies he is fighting against. He refuses to take treatment, against all logical arguments presented to him, and starts a fast unto death. The monk is shown in the worst days of his disease and starvation, nearing death, complete with buzzing flies, bed ulcers, bed wetting episodes, and blackened lips. Scarily brilliant acting by Neeraj Kabi who plays the monk, he was my favourite part of the movie. In the end, the monk realises that the preparation of his soul for death in this life is not yet over, and agrees to treatment. Again, this is only my incomplete understanding of the movie.

The third story, which seems very relaxing compared to the first two, shows a kidney transplant recipient, Navin, who while taking care of his grandma in the hospital, comes across a man whose kidney was stolen. Navin, who otherwise does not have much of a social conscience, feels a need to help the poor man whose kidney was stolen one day before his own transplant surgery took place. After confirming that his own kidney isn't the stolen one, and reassuring himself, he traces the stolen kidney to Stockholm, and visits the city to find the actual recipient. In the midst of all this, we are treated to a shot of two female police constables playing badminton (I wonder why?) and one meandering sequence in a slum which will leave you with the feeling of having walked in the slum yourself for those ten or so minutes.

When Navin finally does find the recipient, he insists that the recipient must return the stolen kidney, that is the only way to set this right. The story has a predictable end with the poor victim of the scam happily settling for the loads of money he is offered and refusing to fight a legal battle to get his kidney back.

The end of the movie ties up all the three stories with a connecting thread, I won't reveal what, and leaves you with a very lovely feeling.

My first reaction to the end of this movie was wanting to watch it again. I've decided I love the movie so much I will buy an official dvd when it is available instead of downloading a pirated version. There aren't any morals or lessons to be learnt from any story in this movie, there aren't any easy answers, there isn't any entertainment, but it is still a pure joy to watch. Most of the scenes are just plain beautiful, that is the simplest way to say it. Wonderful actors, intelligent and crisp dialogue, NO songs, lovely sound effects, and lots and lots of food for thought. Many smiles as well.

This movie is extremely highly recommended watching, as long as you don't mind giving your brain some work to do.


  1. I'll wait for the DVD perhaps, I am yet to find a calling with theatres. :-)

    I saw a lot of people promoting this movie on twitter, and most of the shows were in and around Mumbai (either I am following too many Mumbai-ites on twitter, or Delhi isn't playing it yet. But, I simply ignored it as they all gave little insights into the movie. So, now I guess I have to see this sometime soon.


    1. It's playing in all the four metros, but very limited shows. Thanks for reading, though I forced you into it :D

    2. You can always make yourself heard if you have reason to believe that I should know about it :)

    3. The film is indeed playing in Delhi. Here are the theatre listings:
      PVR Select City Walk: 2 PM 8 PM
      PVR Vasant Kunj: 8 PM
      Cinemax Pacific Mall: 2 PM 7:15 PM
      DT Promenade Vasant Kunj: 12:20 PM, 8:05 PM
      DT Saket: 3:05 PM, 8: 25 PM
      PVR Ambience-Gurgaon: 3:00 PM, 8:20 PM
      Spice-Noida: 3 PM, 9:50 PM

      And ,the film is truly worth the big screen expeirence.

  2. Have to watch after this review. I have no choice. :/

    1. Watching this movie would be a good decision :D

  3. Yeah, I'll just wait for the DVD print.

  4. Damn, I should have gone for this instead of the crap I subjected myself to last week.

  5. Yes, currently playing in all the metros and some other cities...

  6. SPOILER ALERT - Dont read this comment - if u r yet to watch the movie

    Nice blog. Summed up the movie very well.

    What did u infer from the ending? All of them are united and they show a video of someone entering a cave and then the credits roll.
    What did that mean!?

    1. Hi! Thanks for the comment.

      There was one person who donated many organs from his body, and all the recipients of his various organs were called that day, thus uniting them. The deceased donor was a cave explorer, so they showed one of his videos shot inside a cave to all the people, probably just to show them a little bit about the person who donated the organs to them.

      What I didn't understand in the movie is why the sadhu leaves his monkhood and is shown dressed in regular clothes?

  7. Definitely a review Ship of Theseus needed. Aayushi you have done justice for the movie, especially if you have actually forced people into it. I had similar thoughts after watching the movie, and did exactly the same before going for it. There are still some questions in my mind unanswered and whatever I got, it was true a 'food for thought'.
    And, yes you have an amazing blog, I always look forward for your posts, though stopped it after 'Rambling which led to a post about feminism'. I am glad you are back.

    1. Hey! Wow, I am happy to have a dedicated reader like you, thank you for leaving a comment! This movie was really special, and I generally review only the things which mean a lot to me.

      Did you dislike the feminism post so much that you stopped reading my blog after that? :D

    2. I cannot dislike your post. I stopped because I have been always coming with a hope for reading some wonderful thoughts but you took a break after that. I am glad you are back and then I have to read four posts back to back.:D
      It is indeed a special movie. I had to wait for almost two weeks after regularly checking the show timings since all were at time I was not allowed to go. This is one of the reasons that I like your feminism post.