Greetings again from the darkness. Every now and then we are reminded of just how stunning movies can be. Periodically a filmmaker proves to us that pushing the envelope of creativity still drives some auteurs. James Cameron brought us Avatar, which demonstrated that 3D technology could be beautiful and breath-taking. As beautiful and new as Cameron’s breakthrough was, it lacked a story worthy of it advancements. Now, we get director Ang Lee’s vision of Yann Martel’s worldwide bestseller, and we are left gasping at what happens when you combine a fantastical story with technological advances and perfection.
Ang Lee has provided us with a varied selection of films including Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Brokeback Mountain; and Sense and Sensibility. He refuses to be limited by genre and takes a global and philosophical view of filmmaking. He wants us to think and discuss and think some more. His Life of Pi film purposefully leaves many scenes, events and thoughts open to interpretation. You can see as much or as little of humanity in this story as you like.
The brilliant opening depicts real animals in the real zoo located in Pondicherry, India. The colors, sights and sounds are dazzling and give us an immediate sense of the area and culture. We meet young Pi and his family. Pi is inquisitive and ingenious from an early age. His father imparts such wisdom as “If you believe in everything, you believe in nothing“. This comes as Pi is absorbing multiple religions and considers himself Hindu/Muslim/Christian. At an early age, he seeks answers and meaning. Events transpire and soon enough, Pi and his family take their most valued animals and board a ship to Canada to start a new life. Disaster strikes when a storm capsizes the ship and Pi (Suraj Sharma) is the lone human survivor. He finds himself in a small lifeboat with a hyena, an orangutan, and a huge Bengal tiger. Yes, that sounds like the first line of a bad joke, but here it’s the beginning of a remarkable journey.
The developments need not be discussed here, but rather the focus of the story is the spirit of survival that Pi possesses. His ingenious methods of learning to coexist with the ferocious tiger force us to consider what the human race has done to nature in our attempts to gain control. Pi’s religious spirit and insightful ways, coupled with a very fortuitous and specific survival guide, lead him to maneuver 227 days adrift in the Pacific. In the process, we are treated to some of the most spectacular visuals ever seen on screen. At times the sea, and its sea life and sky, are phosphorescent. The story (screenplay by David Magee, who also wrote the underrated Finding Neverland) is so amazing that we find ourselves not caring how much is real and how much is caused by Pi’s hunger and thirst. Some of the visual effects are tranquil, while others are quite violent. A sequence featuring flying silver fish is something to behold.
The structure of the story is such that an adult Pi (played by Irrfan Khan) is re-telling the tale of survival to a Canadian novelist (Rafe Spall). While this is a traditional story-telling device, it takes nothing away from the anything but traditional story of Pi and Richard Parker (the tiger’s name). We are told “This is a story that will make you believe in God“. Whether it does or it doesn’t, it certainly makes us believe in the magic of movies.
Some will compare to Castaway, while others will think of 127 Hours. My best advice is to let go and give yourself to the story and the film. There is always time afterwards for debate and discussion. Instead, enjoy the moment and be thankful that a movie like this can get made … it will lead the industry to even more creative productions down the road. So, just this once, forget what I have said many times, and go see this one in 3D. Allow it to take you away.
**NOTE: Suraj Sharma, who plays Pi on the lifeboat, is a remarkable first time actor. Irrfan Khan, who plays the adult Pi, is known for his excellent turns in Slumdog Millionaire and The Namesake.
SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are interested in it or not OR you have doubted whether 3D technology can enhance the movie going experience
SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you don’t care to see the year’s most remarkable combination of story and visual
watch the trailer: