Director: Ang Lee
Writer: David Magee (screenplay), Yann Martel (novel)
Stars: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain, Rafe Spall
Release date: November 21st, 2012
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Running time: 127 minutes
Best part: The sumptuous 3D sequences.
Worst part: The occasionally unconvincing CGI creations.
“Life is all about letting go, you should take a moment to say proper goodbyes.” This line from Oscar-calibre adventure Life of Pi explains one of the story’s many profound life lessons. Life of Pi is a story about embellishing what is there before it’s gone. This meditative fantasy film may give director Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain) his 2nd Academy Award. It would be a deserved victory for sure, as his new film is a splendid and spiritual survival tale.
Life of Pi is told from the perspective of Piscine Molitor ‘Pi’ Patel. The middle-aged Pi (Irrfan Khan) recalls his life from childhood to the present. Named after a Parisian swimming pool, its pronunciation gets him picked on at school. Pi’s enthusiasm for belief and integrity extends to spirituality. Born Hindu, he learns more about the universe and other cultures through Christian and Islamic studies. Ignoring his family’s atheist beliefs, Pi (Suraj Sharma) becomes an honest and independent individual. His life changes forever when Pi and his family are forced to leave Pondicherry, India, taking their zoo with them. However, disaster strikes when a storm destroys their cargo ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Pi luckily escapes in a resourceful lifeboat. A Hyena, an injured Zebra, an Orang-Utan and a Bengal Tiger join him as Pi must contend with both the dangerous crew and his own psyche.
Life of Pi is an amazing journey of self-discovery and spirituality. Lee has taken a commendable gamble adapting Yann Martel’s best-selling novel. Many directors before him including Alfonso Cuaron and M. Night Shyamalan abandoned the project. This so-called ‘unfilmable’ novel has now been adapted into a religious fable-like character study and unique survival tale. Lee is known for questioning the importance of belief and humanity. His delicate handling of the multi-layered source material is a testament to his sensitivity and constructive direction. He has created a world in which everyone is a symbol of divine purpose. Lee’s handling of Pi’s existence is both pleasantly comedic and heart-wrenching. Similarly to Cast Away and 127 Hours, a character is imaginatively brought to life through a punishing story of mental, spiritual and physical endurance. Without coming off as preachy, the film also outlines the importance of culture and faith. Pi is obsessed with absorbing the wonders of different ideologies. His knowledge of maths, French and religion evolves into an emotionally affecting and in-depth study of philosophy, metaphysics and precociousness. It’s hard to ignore the sheer quality of the world Lee has created. Not only is India a vibrant plethora of colour and contrasting influences, but Pi’s journey across the Pacific Ocean is one of breath-taking beauty. The shipwreck sequence is an enthralling set piece which defines Pi’s struggle to communicate with the gods watching over him. It’s a harrowing scene of survival against great odds and possibly the best shipwreck sequence since Titanic.
“I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go, but what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye.” (Adult Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan), Life of Pi).
Pi’s journey is where the real heart of this story is, as Lee condenses the novel’s valued themes into a courageous quest across an unpredictable and dangerous environment. The film’s steady pace is attributed to Lee’s focus on this contemplative and metaphorical survival tale. Every day of Pi’s journey contains an unbelievable event. Scenes involving a whale’s majestic migration are as awe-inspiring as Pi’s attempts to control his blood-thirsty crew. The stand out sequence is the omnivorous island. Shaped like a person being laid to rest, the island is a labyrinth filled with deadly secrets and obedient meerkats. These stunning sequences are enhanced by the effective use of 3D technology. Similarly to Avatar and Hugo, a master director has perfected the controversial process. Pi is portrayed by a multitude of actors over the course of this story. Sharma, in his first role, displays a kinetic balance of charm and determination. Acting against a green-screen for most of his scenes, he is a worthy talent for this arduous role. Sharma portrays a sympathetic soul with the will to overcome any obstacle. He ingeniously conveys a varied range of emotions in several heart-wrenching scenes. Khan and Rafe Spall’s story line bookends the film. Both actors are charismatic in their energetic dialogue sequences. Breaking down the story, their characters define the importance of two ideologies coming together through destiny. Another stand out performance is from the Bengal Tiger. Known as ‘Richard Parker’, the tiger is a ferocious and beautiful creation. Not since Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes has an animal been created with both depth and an understanding of its troubling surroundings. It’s a seamless CGI creation and an important symbol of the moral challenges Pi must overcome.
A moving and thought provoking experience is garnered from this survival tale. Impressive CGI sequences prove film technology to be important for both story and style. While Pi’s quest for belief and hope is an inspirational example of how our decisions and interactions continually affect our way of life.