Life of Pi is a film about so much more than its title suggests. Sure, at its core, it is the story of an adult man telling the unbelievable story of his childhood, and how he spent seven and a half months on a lifeboat with a tiger after being shipwrecked. But beyond that, it’s a film about resurgence. And loss. And regret, and love. In short, it’s a film about life, period. We’re just privy to it through the narrative of one old wise man.
That’s the first act in a nutshell, and it’s fair to be concise because, quite frankly, Life of Pi doesn’t come alive until Pi (played by newcomer Suraj Sharma, in a fearless, unforgettable performance) is fighting for his life.
And believe me, as well as any film this year, Life of Pi is completely and utterly alive. The engrossing, atmospheric 3D I chose to view the film in helped, but that’s just a gimmick. At its heart, this film tells as honest and gut wrenching a story of survival as I can recently recall. The fact that it does this with a PG rating and in nearly two hours only adds to it’s marvel.
Quickly after the accident, Pi learns that the lifeboat isn’t fully his. I’m not going to go into detail about the other animals on board, because watching their interactions together results in some of the finest filmmaking I’ve seen all year. Those sequences are presented nearly word free, and they deserve to stay that way in critical form.
Pi’s most steadfast passenger is Richard Parker, a ferocious Bengal tiger who asserts his dominance early, which Pi is forced to slowly level out over time. And that, in a very crude sense, is your movie.
I’ve heard mixed things about Yann Martel’s source novel. “Unadaptable” is the word most frequently tossed around. Others include everything from “lifeless,” to “best selling brilliance.” I haven’t read it, so I can’t comment. But what I can say is that for a film that relies so heavily on visual imagery and transparent metaphor, Ang Lee has created something truly special. From the minute Pi found himself in trouble on board, to the cuing of the first end credit, I was wholly enthralled. My greatest fear for the film – that it would ceaselessly crosscut Pi telling his story in the present, to him living it in the past – was wisely ignored. They knew precisely when to go back, and exactly when to stay put.
From a visual standpoint, there’s no arguing the film’s accomplishments. It tells its story through the wonderment of a colorful sunset, and the horror of grey ocean waters, and it tells it well. I’ve heard idle banter that events depicted in the movie aren’t plausible, and that people are left wanting the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. To that note, I’ll use Pi’s own words as a means of reassurance. “If it happened, it happened. Why should it mean anything?” A-