Life of Pi may very well challenge what you believe. Then again, it may not.
Ang Lee’s wonderfully adventurous adaptation of the 2001 Yann Martel novel is a deeply spiritual film. In it, we hear one whale of a story, told by an older man (Irrfan Khan) named Piscine “Pi” Patel to a young scholar who is looking to write a book. The young man heard that Pi had a story that “will make you believe in God,” so we listen as Pi recounts his amazing tale.
Light and humorous in the beginning, most of the film is told in flashbacks, returning from time to time to the older Pi and his enamored subject. We hear Pi describe his youth, about how his father owned a zoo and how he made the decision to move his family to America. Falling victim to a vicious storm, the boat carrying Pi’s family and the zoo animals capsizes. Only Pi survives, along with a handful of exotic beasts that manage their way onto the small life raft. Among these are a hyena, an injured zebra, an orangutan and a fierce Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
If you are wondering why a Bengal tiger would have such a name, don’t worry, all is explained. If the broader scope of this story already sounds too unbelievable to be true, you may also be right.
The bulk of the film takes place on this raft, with the teenage Pi (Suraj Sharma, in a very good performance) trying to survive at all costs. There are some scary, desperate moments for sure that seem to bring into question the “PG” rating that this film received, but it is definitely not as dark or violent as it could have been. As imagined by Ang Lee, this is a fantasy. Enhanced greatly by 3D, there are some breath-taking visuals, including an underwater shot of the ship wreckage that may be one of the most beautifully immersive 3D shots to date.
Pi learns how to live and draws on his spiritual beliefs to get him through this ordeal. As we learned earlier in the film, Pi is very religious in the oddest of ways: He considers himself to be every religion. At times, he relies on different Gods and beliefs. We all know that God exists for those who believe, so if someone believes in many Gods, then isn’t that the reality created for that individual? It’s an interesting concept, to consider that no contradictions exist, that would allow all of these Gods to just “be” simultaneously. There is strength in believing, regardless of what you believe in, so says the film.
But unlike many films that tackle spirituality, Life of Pi never feels preachy. In fact, it is an odd film in that it radiates a sense of confidence. Do you find it absurd, that a boy could live with a Bengal tiger on a raft for several months? Is it absurd to think that any of these events could really happen? It’s probably just as unreasonable as thinking that there is a heaven. The point is that we choose what we believe in.
But forget all of this religious mumbo-jumbo, Life of Pi is also an epic adventure and a wondrous splendor for the eyes. At over 2 hours, there were parts of the movie that I thought went on way too long. There is after all, a tiger and a boy on the screen for a vast majority of the time and only so much you can do. The ending also seemed to drag out, but once everything came to a close, you realize why so much time was needed. The whole movie hinges on what happens in these final scenes and it would be a shame to give anything away.
Life of Pi is one of the most memorable films of the year and also one of the most deeply meaningful adventures you’ll see. Usually it’s sink or swim, but Ang Lee boldly manages to keep this film afloat, crafting an amazingly visual experience that only occasionally seems to tread water.
Genre: Adventure, Drama
Run Time: 2 hours, 7 minutes, Rated PG
Starring: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Tabu, Adil Hussain, Ayush Tandon
Written by David Magee (Finding Neverland), based on the novel by Yann Martel
Directed by Ang Lee (The Ice Storm, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hulk, Brokeback Mountain)
Opens locally on Wednesday, Nov. 21st, 2012 (check for show times).
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