Life of Pi (2012): Film Guide

Life of PiMy guide to Ang Lee’s sumptuous and moving film, Life of Pi, has now been published by Insight Publications. This film has been added to the Australian year 11/12 English syllabus, and I hope that readers will find this guide a helpful resource for teaching and studying it.

The guide is 73 pages (approximately 22,000 words), and includes the following: character map; background on the writer and director; detailed synopsis; character summaries; discussion of the film in its historical and cultural context (including debates over religion and reason, as well as animal ethics); detailed discussion of genre, structure, and style; scene-by-scene analysis, including key points and study questions; detailed discussion of characters and their relationships; involved analysis of themes (including fiction versus reality, choosing faith or reason, respect for non-human animals, the ‘true’ nature of non-human animals, the value of both family connections and independence, the general theme of ‘discovery’, and the importance of saying goodbye and letting go).

life-of-pi-screenshot-13It also contains a section addressing different critical interpretations of Lee’s film (including its relationship to Yann Martel’s source novel). A particularly helpful feature of all Insight guides is their focus on essay planning and writing: this guide includes a section on structuring an essay, sample essay topics, a detailed analysis of one of those topics with a sample essay outline (with complete introduction and conclusion), and a complete sample essay in response to another question (written to Year 11/12 A+ standard). The guide also includes a list of references for further reading.

life of pi screenshot 2Life of Pi is a stylistically brilliant yet thoughtfully composed film. It’s also thematically rich, offering a number of very worthwhile points for discussion and study — points that are both serious and provocative, yet accessible enough for the year-levels for which the film has been set. I hope this guide helps navigate, tease out, and enjoyably expand upon all this film has to offer.

Available from the publisher, Insight Publications.

Ageing, Popular Culture and Contemporary Feminism (Palgrave, 2014)

Ageing, Popular Culture and Contemporary FeminismImelda Whelehan and Joel Gwynne’s wonderful collection, Ageing, Popular Culture and Contemporary Feminism: Harleys and Hormones, is now out from Palgrave Macmillan, featuring my chapter “Too Old for This Shit?: On Ageing Tough Guys.”

Blurb from the publisher:

The past decade has seen an increase in popular cultural representations of ageing, in response to the realities of an ageing Western population and an acknowledgement of the economic significance of consumption by seniors. Yet, while contemporary film often depicts late middle to old age as a time of renewal and acceptance, most popular depictions of ageing focus on images of loss, decline, and the fear of physically ageing ‘naturally’. Ageing in popular culture is a battlefield, with increasing numbers of euphemisms used to disguise the fact of age.

Feminist discourse has kept forever young, even though some of its most eminent proponents are ageing and dying. In the field of popular cultural studies the emphasis on the discourse of postfeminism and the ‘girling’ of culture has foregrounded the concerns of young women at the expense of a focus on older women, or what ‘gender’ means for middle-aged to older people generally. This collection demonstrates how popular culture constructs ageing as a perilous experience for not only women but also for men, while also underscoring the possibilities (and problems) of positive representations of ageing in the wider culture and in feminist criticism.

Bruce Willis in Die Hard 4.0 (2006)My chapter addresses the resurgence of several iconic cinema tough guys in the 2000s, including Bruce Willis in new installments of the Die Hard franchise (2007 and 2013), Sylvester Stallone in Rocky Balboa (2006) and Rambo (2008), and a veritable brigade of ageing beefcake in The Expendables (2010). I argue that the re-popularization of these stars was indicative of renewed cultural interest in traditional gender roles in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Generally in these films, physical violence is used to shore up masculinities perceived to be threatened by the ageing process. However, I argue that even though these tough-guy heroes may have come back (‘with a vengeance’), the films in which they appear also acknowledge that the ageing male will not always be able to ‘legitimize’ his status through stunning demonstrations of violence. Consequently, several of these films seek to navigate for their male heroes ways of maintaining prestige beyond its persistent physical enforcement.

Ageing, Popular Culture and Contemporary Feminism at Palgrave; at Amazon.

West African Groundnut Stew

I don’t post recipes; that I am choosing to do so in this instance will thus indicate my satisfaction with this one I’ve been fiddling with. Following the directions below will leave you with a luxuriously thick, healthy and cruelty-free West African Groundnut Stew. A colleague kindly passed this recipe on to me (exact source unknown. . . West Africa!). I’ve made it several times, gradually making a few amendments that make it both tastier and more nutritious.

Preliminary note: I don’t own or care about actual measuring cups. I use drinking mugs, so when I say 1 Cup, just throw a mug-full in there. If you do this consistently it’ll all balance out in the end!  (Or you can use exact cups if you like; I’m sure it won’t matter.)

Ingredients: (Serves 4)
1 half of a 375g jar of crunchy peanut butter (approx 1/2 cup)
2 garlic cloves, pressed (minced from the jar is fine; 2 generous teaspoons)
2 teaspoons of grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper (adjust to taste; this is supposed to be spicy but not infernal)
3 tablespoons of peanut oil
[optional: 1 & 1/2 cups of chopped green beans; this will make it a little more filling though)
2 teaspoons of salt (adjust to taste, you might like an extra half-teaspoon or so)
3 cups of cubed sweet potato (I recommend approx 1/2-inch cubes, or you’ll be waiting forever for them to soften)
2 fistfuls of chopped fresh coriander leaves
1/2 170g bag of fresh spinach leaves, or two decent handfuls (optional but recommended; I like a lot of green on the scene. Add even more if you like.)
2 cups chopped onion (approx 2 good-sized onions)
3 cups of tomato juice
1/2 cup of apple juice
2 generous-sized chopped tomatoes
4-5 cups of fresh chopped choy sum (a.k.a. bok choy sum; i.e. a whole bunch as purchased)

Sidekick: your favourite thick and crusty bread (to be toasted in slices).


  • Groundnut Stew - simmerSaute the onions in the oil for about 10 minutes.
  • Stir in the cayenne and garlic; saute for a couple more minutes.
  • Add the choy sum, sweet potatoes and saute, covered, for a few more minutes; but lift off to stir it around a bit. That’s a lot of choy sum in there, but it’ll reduce down of course.
  • Mix in the juices, salt, ginger, coriander, and tomatoes. If you go too heavy on the apple juice this will be too sweet and it’ll be a pain in the ass to re-balance it. I recommend starting with a half-cup (no more); you can always add a splash more later.
  • Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the sweet potatoes are tender.
  • If you like, you can put the chopped green beans in at this point, then simmer for another 5 minutes. This is where I add the spinach instead. There isn’t any reason why you can’t add both — never too much veg, right?
  • Stir in the peanut butter, then gently simmer until ready to serve. Give it slurp to see if it’s spicy enough. If you like it a little sweeter, add a further splash of apple juice. If you can’t get enough of that peanutty taste, spoon an extra dollop in there. You know what you like.

If it gets too thick, simply add more tomato juice; it’s a stew but you don’t want it too boggy. Also, naturally you’ll lose liquid when you reheat later, so add a little more tomato juice before you do so.

Add your favourite garnish and serve with the lightly toasted bread.

Groundnut Stew