The Stories that We Tell

On Monday, I went to see Life of Pi, the film.  As I haven’t yet read the book, I didn’t know what to expect.

But from the opening scene to the end, I was drawn in to a beautiful, magical tale about the art of storytelling itself.  About our place within a grander narrative – that space where the line between fiction and reality is blurred.

Following on from last week’s theme, I can’t seem to let it go.

In 2003, I had my first attempt at visual storytelling.  My mother and her twin were turning sixty.  And along with organising a weekend getaway for both our families, I decided I would make a video.

The timing was terrible.  I’d just handed in the final assessment for the Bachelor of Arts I took too seriously.  Negotiating with my long lost cousins had turned into a circus.  And my personal relationships were a mess.

On the drive down, my mind was anywhere but on the drive.  Somehow I had turned off the main highway on a road to who-knows-where and was collected by a car through a roundabout.

It could have been fatal.  But apart from a bit of whiplash, luckily neither of us were hurt.

The weekend was a train wreck, as far as I was concerned.

While the family carried on as though nothing had happened, the best I could manage was to tremble absentmindedly behind camera.

Back home, as I trawled through hours of shaky footage, a story started to take shape.


Mum (right) and her twin sister

Two sisters, separated by a stretch of sea between Melbourne and Tasmania, reunited with their families for the first time in years.

Slowly the sequence of events started to be rearranged.  Hours reduced to moments, obscuring memory.

Awkward empty laughter became witty repartee.

The disgruntled old fellas turned kindly and ineffectual.

Some things were left out.

The part where no one prepared their speeches.

The pained expression on my mother’s face upon hearing how her sister is the “Mum away from Mum.”

Activities and chores that in reality dragged now speed by to the “Flight of the Bumblebee“.

Rare moments of affection, old photos and a child’s lopsided grin slow to the sound of a collective heartfelt tune.

“My island home, my island home
My island home, is waiting for me…”

Neil Murray
covered by Christine Anu

Somehow, a melange of a family reunion is turned into a nostalgic longing for our place of origin – for home and belonging.

By the end of the edit, even I am moved!

What I didn’t expect was that ten years on, the video would become the stuff of family legend.  Apparently, my little cousins (even the new ones) still watch it every time they visit their gran.

Little surprise, then, that they want to do it all over again for the impending 70th.

I’m a little worried about their expectations.  I feel like I made a propaganda film.  Will they be disappointed when they see our family for what it truly is?

But what is that, exactly?

At the end of Life of Pi, we are presented with two possibilities for the story that was told – a realist version, and the magical tale.  In either case, the essential elements of the story remain the same.  So we are left with a choice.

Reality, or the story that elevates reality to a place of understanding?

Surely this is the point – to understand each other from the stories that we tell…

“The world isn’t just the way it is. It is how we understand it, no? And in understanding something, we bring something to it, no?

Doesn’t that make life a story?”

– Pi Patel, Life of Pi by Yann Martel

What do you prefer? Fact or fiction? Should we write grand narratives, or are they all a lie?