Based on the popular 2001 novel by Canada’s Yann Martel, Life of Pi tells the incredible story of Pi, a young man faced with surviving at sea for 227 days following a shipwreck.
The three-act narrative begins with an extended amount of time focusing on Pi’s childhood in Pondicherry, India. His odd name, Piscine, comes from a pool in France and unfortunately sounds a whole lot like the word “pissing” to the delight of cruel classmates. How Pi earns his new shortened urine-free name as well as the respect of his peers displays his intellect and creativity.
Young Pi becomes obsessed with faith and though raised Hindu, learns and practices many other religions including Christianity and Islam, taking a bit out of each while seeking to love and understand God.
Pi’s father (not Matt Damon) owns a zoo and it’s there that Pi learns an early lesson about the brutality of the animal world when he is forced to watch the zoo’s Bengal Tiger, Richard Parker (the name is due to a clerical error), make lunch out of a poor little goat.
Grisly childhood-scarring memories aside, everything is going pretty well for Pi when one day his father announces that he plans to sell off the animals and move the family to Canada to start a new life. They set out on a passenger ship with many of the animals aboard. A terrible storm hits and the ship is destroyed, leaving Pi the only survivor on a small lifeboat in the middle of the ocean.
Well, he’s not really the only one. He’s joined by a few of the animals,
and one of them is Richard Parker.
Let’s start with what everyone is talking about. From the opening credits to the final frame this is a gorgeous, gorgeous movie that demands to be seen on a theater screen. Ang Lee is known for creating striking visuals, but he (along with cinematographer Claudio Miranda and the countless unsung digital artists) has outdone himself here. Every frame looks almost painting-like, with meticulous attention to detail and breathtaking images that will linger in your mind long after they’ve left the screen.
Far out man.
Most impressive for me was the depiction of water, really a character itself, serving as both as a beautifully serene reflector as well as a raging beast more powerful than a million Richard Parkers. From the violent shipwreck scene to the long stretches of quiet, sparkling beauty, it’s never anything less than extraordinary.
In case the first screenshot didn’t convince you.
This film contains the best use of 3-D I’ve ever seen in a movie. While I’m sure it’s also beautiful in 2-D, the 3-D is used in a way that it further enhances the intense action as well as the calm, dreamlike seascapes while drawing the viewer into the story even more. Most importantly, it flows and hardly ever seems gimmicky (except for one instance involving a pointer that came off a little clunky). Don’t be stingy on this one, pay the extra couple of dollars and opt for the 3-D version if given the choice. You will not regret it.
Likewise, the CGI effects are exceptional, especially in bringing the animals to life. It’s nearly impossible to tell which Richard Parker is a real Bengal tiger and which is a digitally created one (In actuality, lead actor Suraj Sharma and the four live tigers used for the film never shared any scenes on the lifeboat together).
Let’s just say it’s the complete opposite of this.
While the eyes and facial expressions of the tiger always look lifelike, Lee is very careful to depict Richard Parker as anything more than an animal, and one that will not hesitate to kill at any given moment. At the same time though, a relationship does develop between Pi and Parker, but it’s one of mutual respect rather than a friendship. The scenes of the two together are the best in the film and a big part of what makes it so special.
It’s hard to believe that this is Suraj Sharma’s very first role. He carries the bulk of the movie alone as teenage Pi and shows a talent and maturity far beyond his years and experience turning in a performance on par with Tom Hanks’ in Castaway.
And Tom Hanks didn’t have to deal with Wilson wanting to eat him…
Or DID HE?
Irrfan Khan plays Pi as an adult, recounting his story to a writer (Rafe Spall, not given much to do other than express interest) who is searching for a great story. The framing device takes the audience out of the action, but Khan’s quietly brilliant performance makes up for it.
Despite its splendor, after all the hype leading up to this film’s release I expected to come away emotionally affected, but when it was over, it left me cold.
Without spoiling anything for those that haven’t read the book, there is a revelation at the end that leaves the viewer with a choice to make. It forces them to question everything they’ve been told leading up to it and also to hate Gérard Depardieu more than they already do (I’m talking before seeing the film. Everybody hates that guy, don’t they?). Turns out, it’s a big old metaphor for faith as adult Pi adds “As it is with God.”
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a clever and thought-provoking twist that invites endless debates, but as far as being moved, well, I was moved to search for somewhere to get Indian food on the way home more than being moved to search my soul.
Of course this is more on the book than it is on the film, and the comparison is flawed (since Pi knows the correct answer to the question he presents while the existence of God is based on faith alone), but Lee’s and screenwriter David Magee’s handling of this plot point makes it pretty clear that the film’s interpretation of the ending is that it is not ambiguous at all, making belief in the “better” choice seem silly and by that, accomplishing the exact opposite of what the story claims to do, which is “make you believe in God.”
Still, my belief in what a talented filmmaker can do with a $120 million budget remains intact.
Life of Pi deserves to be seen (and in 3-D) for its stunning visuals and newcomer Suraj Sharma’s impressive performance. As for the religious allegory stuff, everyone can and will take from it what they want, which I guess is the ultimate point. For me, I took away an enchanting, beautifully filmed adventure that is more an experience than a movie. I would be very, very surprised if Life of Pi didn’t land both Best Director and Best Picture nominations come Oscar time.
Take a Drink: at every animal death. (Note: While this film is rated PG, I would not recommend it for small children. The animal killings are not overly graphic, but they are disturbing.)
Take a Drink: when you are repulsed by Gérard Depardieu. (during the film or anytime in general)
Take a Drink: every time the name “Richard Parker” is said.
Take a Drink: when you wonder why Pi never grows any facial hair in 227 days.
Take a Drink: if you “aww” at a sleepy meerkat.
Down a Strong Shot: if the ending leaves you a little down.