Ang Lee brings an un-filmable book to the big screen...
Directed by Ang Lee
Written by David Magee
Cinematography by Claudio Miranda
Music Composed by Mychael Danna
Irrfan Khan ... Older Pi
Gérard Depardieu ... Frenchman
Suraj Sharma ... Pi Patel
Rafe Spall ... The Writer
Tabu ... Pi's Mother
Adil Hussain ... Pi's Father
Shravanthi Sainath ... Pi's Girlfriend
Ayush Tandon ... Young Pi
Runtime: 127 min
MPAA: Rated PG for emotional thematic content throughout, and some scary action sequences and peril Official Website
It is very unusual to see a movie that causes critics to have in depth debates with each other about the meaning of the movie. When a film causes two long-time critics to have two completely different points of view over what a movie meant to them, the movie was worth the time to see. That happened after the press screening of Life of Pi, a movie based on the bestselling novel by Yann Martel about a young Indian man who finds himself trapped on a raft, lost at sea along with a Bengal tiger.
What makes the movie more interesting than just telling another survival tale is that the story is about faith, or lack of faith, and how believing in something can help a person survive any tragedy. The movie is book-ended in the present day, as an older Pi (Irrfan Khan) tells his story to a writer (Rafe Spall), as the young writer learned that Pi's story will make you believe in God. Pi then sits down and tells the writer the story of his life on the raft with the tiger.
Pi, as a child, was unable (unwilling?) to choose a specific belief in faith. Despite his father demanding that he pick one faith, he chose to believe in them all. He became a Hindu, Buddhist and Christian and chose to believe in all the Gods and all the beliefs. While his father explained that believing in everything meant you believed in nothing, Pi refused to accept that. After seeing a bit of his childhood, including how he got his nickname, life with his first girlfriend and life with his parents in a zoo, the movie kicked into high gear.
Pi's family had to sell their zoo because of financial difficulties and took a large Japanese freight ship to Canada with their animals aboard. On the way, a giant storm hit the ship and everyone died, humans and animals alike, except for Pi, the tiger, a zebra, a hyena and an orangutan. Pretty quickly, the hyena gets hungry and attacks the zebra, eating it. It then kills the orangutan (Pi's favorite to talk to) before the tiger, who is named Richard Parker, leaps out and kills the hyena. That leaves Pi with a hungry tiger on a raft.
The movie then sets out to show how Pi survives this experience, while also satisfying the hunger of Richard Parker, and battling the dangerous ocean. Along the way, Pi begins to question his Gods and wonder why they have forsaken him, which ties in well to his favorite character from the religions, Jesus Christ.
Ang Lee was not sure how to bring this difficult book to the big screen and said it wasn't until he decided to shoot it in 3D that he figured out how to crack it. This is the best use of 3D filmmaking since Avatar, because the 3D here is necessary to tell the story of Pi and his journey. With much of the movie taking place in the middle of the ocean, the amazing 3D work here makes the scenes come to life in vibrant colors and beauty. There are scenes with jellyfish, algae, a giant whale, flying fish, and hallucinations suffered on the trip that are among the most beautiful 3D images ever filmed.
Ang Lee created an amazing looking movie with this effort.
The acting is also great. Newcomer Suraj Sharma is amazing as Pi in the movie. He really brings the character to life and is amazes me that this is his film debut. The kid has a natural charisma and an innocence that makes Pi someone you believe in the entire movie. It also helps that the older Pi is played by Irrfan Khan ("Slumdog Millionaire"), someone who really brings the closure to the story, showing how the experiences helped him become the man he did. Between the 3D and the acting, there is a lot here to like.
Slight spoilers to the story follow:
The end of the movie shows the young Pi being interviewed by Japanese insurers who want to understand what happened about the sinking boat. When they ask Pi, he tells them his story. They don't believe it and ask for the truth. Pi then tells them another story, except substituting humans for the animals. In this story, all the hope and faith is replaced by the darkness of men's souls as the humans kill one another and Pi (Richard Parker) ends up the sole survivor.
The older Pi then asks the writer which story he believes.
The best part for me was the discussions following the movie. Few and far between are movies that actually bring about legitimate debates about the themes of the film. I spoke to a newspaper critic and she believed that the theme of the movie was either choosing faith or darkness, do you prefer to believe the darkness in humans or the light in faith. I felt differently. As I mentioned earlier in the review, Pi's father told him to choose one faith. The way I see it is the movie said that it doesn't matter which story you choose (Christianity, Hindu, Muslim), the ending is always the same, it just depends on how you get there.
The 411: For people who really pay attention to story, Life of Pi offers a lot of talk about. That alone makes this an amazing movie worth watching. Add in the best 3D filmmaking I have seen since Avatar and some really good acting by the young lead and you have a movie you have to see on the big screen in the theater.