By: Justin Cohen (A Toast) –
“Even when God seemed to have abandoned me, He was watching. Even when He seemed indifferent to my suffering, He was watching. And when I was beyond all hope of saving, He gave me rest. Then He gave me a sign to continue my journey.” This is the quote that perfectly encapsulates the film Life of Pi. A nice rest from the hustle and bustle of your day and the stressors that tend to run through our minds on a daily basis.
The film boasts a spiritually uplifting (but never on the nose plot) and a feast for your eyes and ears. This film is beautiful and serene. I actually felt my heart rate slow as I was watching it. Never have I seen a film who so seamlessly merges the themes it imparts with its dialogue and plot with the photography it presents you on the screen.
Based on the 2001 novel by Yann Martel, The Life of Pi follows Piscine “Pi” Molitor Patel (Suraj Sharma) as he finds himself stranded on a boat for an indeterminate amount of time along with a menagerie of animals that were being transported across the Atlantic.
A story within a story, the film is framed using a Canadian reporter (Rafe Spall) who is suffering from a bit of writer’s block and seeks out a professor, an adult Pi portrayed by Irrfan Khan, who has the most incredibly story to tell. Pi’s story is one that finds him challenged by the elements, by a lack of food and by the looming threat of the tiger, Richard Parker, whom he finds himself stranded in the middle of the ocean with. Being directed to speak to the former castaway by Pi’s uncle, the reporter is promised that Pi’s story will make him believe in God.
And with that frame set, the film does not catapult you into the action. Instead it gently lures you into the life of a curious and thoughtful young man who is trying to make sense of the world and his own place in it. Pi’s ideals are constantly put to the test by others and his own experiences, but the unwavering spirit he possesses is infectious to the viewer throughout the 127-minute run time.
Life of Pi presents a rationalist view conflicting with the view of our protagonist, someone who so hopelessly wishes to connect with God, be it through Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, what have you. For a film about religion, it is never preachy. Pi’s faith is challenged by his father, his faith is challenged by his ordeal, but in the end he holds steadfast and his reward is Life. It is the story of a young man finding strength when no one would fault him for giving up. It is a story of the indomitable spirit that men and women of every creed would be able to connect with and a protagonist who everyone would root for.
And what an amazing protagonist Pi is. He has moments of genuine self-reflection and vulnerability that are displayed in the cracks in his voice and the fetal position you see him in many times throughout the film. The actor bares his soul and there were many moments where I was not watching a movie, I was watching a human bare his soul to an audience of complete strangers. The expressiveness of Suraj Sharma’s face can’t be looking at just a camera, can’t be surrounded by just a green screen. This is an actor who invokes the suffering from the core of his being in order to tell the story of a man who just lost his family and is floating to what appears to be his inevitable demise.
There is a word floating around in internet circles called “frisson,” quite literally when you’re listening to a piece of music and you get chills. The way the soundtrack blends so well with what you are experiencing on screen is enough to give the most heartless man on the face of this Earth frisson. One particular scene slows the film down to zero while the sun sets over the ocean and our protagonist lies exhausted. Nothing happens, nothing is said, Ang Lee simply allows you to live in the beautiful moment while you feast on the candy for your soul. There are moments in this film that would not look out of place as still photographs hanging in your house—in fact, I took a couple screenshots up to my local Kinko’s and made a couple.
Of course the stunning photography is further supplemented with the Mychael Danna soundtrack which slowly unfurls to match the leisurely pace of the movie. The floating orchestral instruments evoke a feeling of floating through space (don’t get me started on a beautiful moment where our main character is reading a celestial comic book). The ethereal sounds of this film are the perfect accompaniment for when you get lost in the visuals.
All in all, Life of Pi is the equivalent of a calming cup of tea. Films with a religious bent are not normally as subtle as this one. It is a religious film, it is a self-help film, and it is all presented in the opposite of a schlocky way that only a director like Ang Lee has been able to capture in my filmgoing experience. More than a religious film, however, it encapsulates the age-old theme of man vs. nature and promotes perseverance and hope. It is impossible to watch this film and not come out the other side recharged with a new appreciation for life.
Life of Pi (2012) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time the cinematography leaves you speechless
Take a Drink: every time something in the ocean glows
Take a Drink: every time someone says “Richard Parker”
Toast your Drink: if you believe in God by the end of the movie