LIFE OF PI
“The whole of life is about letting go," the lead character of Ang Lee’s new film Life of Pi says. Based on the popular book, Life of Pi is a highly spectacular family film that feels like last year's We Bought a Zoo combined with Cast Away. Oscar winning director Lee has been delivering what I call difficult films internationally for years. He has become someone who attracts polarizing movies. Lee is also known as a hit and miss director with his superhero adaptation of Hulk in 2003 with Eric Bana, a huge misstep. His most noteworthy accomplishments are Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain and Sense & Sensibility. His range as a director is impeccable, so it isn’t a real surprise that he chose to adapt a complex story of a boy stuck on a small boat in the middle of the ocean with an adult Bengal tiger.
Reluctantly traveling with his family from India to Canada by ship, Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma) and all the animals they are carrying from their zoo to be sold are faced with a sinking freight liner. Perhaps it was divine intervention, but Pi and the tiger are the only survivors. Pi’s near accidental encounter with the same tiger as a boy taught him to fear the animal, which is father said would have no mercy for him. Pi’s faith in God and fear of the tiger, who he calls Richard Parker, would prove to be his greatest tools for survival. An older Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan) is retelling his wild story to a writer (Rafe Spall) for publication.
The majority of Life of Pi relies heavily on CGI and special effects; even the tiger itself, obviously being in such close contact with the actor, is an animation. When the trailer first debuted for the film (even for those who had read the book), the reaction was highly skeptical. However, Lee and his screenwriter David Magee (Finding Neverland) manage to serve the viewer the main course without constantly reminding them that nothing is real. The first thirty minutes of the film is heavy as we are introduced to Pi, discovering the origin of his name and getting him on that fated ship. The film uses sequences to break up the seemingly endless time at sea, such as an imaginative sequence underwater with colorful fish and designs that look like the inside of a kaleidoscope. There were a couple of areas where I questioned the editing and use of a similar shot showing the tiny boat in the large ocean as almost a separation of the many acts because it seemed only to remind the viewer of the length of the story.
It was impossible for me not to associate this film with Robert Zemeckis’ Cast Away (2000), which I find the superior film. Striking similarities between the two, not just the fact that both are two men who survive a devastating crash, are tested to their limits and cling to one thing to get them through, but even small details like the scene with the whale, the way the crash happens, and the person they become as a result. I found the emotional struggle in Cast Away more moving than the struggle here, mostly because it was less fantastical and much darker (Pi never contemplates suicide, nor is he “lost” for the large amount of time Hanks’ character was). The spiritual aspect of Life of Pi is what fascinates me the most, because it’s presented in a way that will not offend anyone.
Final Thought – Ang Lee’s most accessible and friendly film for all ages.
Grade B- By: Dustin Chase
Dr. Donna Copeland’s
Life of Pi is a contemplative story musing about the meaning of life, spirituality, and God, but it is likewise an entertaining tale about the bond that develops between a contemplative adolescent boy and an animal and their adventures while stranded on a lifeboat (pun intended). There are actually four animals to begin with, but as time goes on, there is just Richard Parker, the tiger, and Pi (Suraj Sharma). It is a real treat to observe their connection across time and see how the gentle Pi must come to terms with aggression and make use of it to survive.
The film opens with lush scenes of exotic animals in a zoo closely resembling a peaceful jungle. Then we’re introduced to Pi as a schoolboy and his family, and see the father trying to impress upon the trusting child that there are some animals that should be feared. Pi is a thoughtful child, and expresses his interest in various religions, seeing no reason to disregard any; against the advice of his father, he clings to all of them. This sets the stage for the main part of the story, which poses questions about humans’ search for spiritual meaning and their relationships with others and with nature.
The first shipwreck for the family occurs when they must sell the animals and emigrate to Canada to start anew. The animals will travel with them on a ship and be sold after they arrive. Unfortunately, a bigger shipwreck occurs when they encounter a storm at sea and the ship sinks. Pi gets separated from his family and ends up on a lifeboat by himself with some of the animals. In the 227 days they bobble about on the sea, Pi’s faith and his will to survive will be tested time and again.
This film, excellently rendered by Ang Lee, demonstrates the art of storytelling. Not only are we presented with an absorbing tale, but In the end, we can select which of two different versions of the truth appeals to us more.
Before I saw the movie, the need for 3D was not apparent; however, after seeing the scenes with animals and storms, the value in those enhancements is clear. Suraj Sharma, an inexperienced actor, was a fine choice in bringing Pi to life. Grade: A