Synopsis: Director Ang Lee creates a groundbreaking movie event about a young man who survives a tragic disaster at sea and is hurtled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery. While marooned on a lifeboat, he forms an amazing and unexpected connection with the ship’s only other survivor…a fearsome Bengal tiger.
Release Date: November 21, 2012 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, based on Yann Martel’s book, is a challenging film to say the least. Its PG rating and optional 3D format suggest a family friendly adventure a la The Jungle Book, but what lurks beneath the surface is a story about faith and religion; about what we as human beings choose to believe in.
The immediate story of Life of Pi centers on Piscine Patel (self-nicknamed Pi), who relays his incredible story through flashback to a writer looking for inspiration. Pi comes from a traditional Indian background, but his life is anything but. Though there are many remarkable qualities to Pi’s early life it is most important to note that Pi is a member of three different religions – Hindu, Islam, and Catholicism – and his family owned a zoo in Pondicherry, India. It is however the Patel family’s journey to Canada, on a freighter that includes several dozen Japanese immigrants and the Patel family zoo’s populace, that truly sets the film in motion.
As the trailers already have explained, the meat of Pi’s story takes place with a post-shipwreck Pi struggling to survive on a life raft with a tiger named Richard Parker. It doesn’t start out with just the tiger and Pi, in fact a zebra, hyena, and orangutan also find refuge on the boat, but let’s just say the circle of life kicks in. Pi, along with Richard Parker, struggle to survive, cope with each other’s presence (Pi more so than the tiger), and are thrust through the motions of an unbelievable adventure; a story that the elder Pi, who doubles as the narrator, says will make the writer, and by extension the audience, believe in God.
While it’s up to the moviegoer how deeply Life of Pi will impact them, the narrative is captivating regardless. How Lee is able to deliver a riveting tale of survival amidst the elements, one with an extremely unconventional premise, is alone an impressive feat. Though there are book ends to the film, scenes that take place prior to and after Pi’s time on the raft, it’s the character’s experiences with Richard Parker that make the film so fantastic. As the elder Pi’s initial claim suggests, there are some fantastical elements to the proceedings, but the way the story uses concepts like spirituality, and faith especially, to provide a different spin on the extraordinary makes for a film that is as challenging as it is entertaining. The film is not one big think piece, mind you – it’s actually filled with tremendous scenes of joy, as Pi and Richard Parker behold some of the ocean’s great wonders, and immense pain, which for spoilers sake aren’t worth delving into.
Fans of Martel’s book will find a surprising amount of detail went into bringing the unconventional story of Pi to life, but will still acknowledge important differences between novel and film – some for the sake of believability and others in service of delivering a leaner film. Regardless, Ang Lee has created another wondrous film that is equal parts thrilling, emotional, and uplifting – a triumph as a piece of compelling cinema and an interesting examination on the nature of spirituality.
Life of Pi‘s performances are across the board solid, especially Irrfan Khan as the elder Pi/narrator, but it is Suraj Sharma as teenage Pi, the one stranded with the tiger, who really steals the show. As Pi struggles to deal with the elements and Richard Parker, or even as he finds humor in unlikely places, Sharma shines. And it’s a good thing Sharma is able to rise to the occasion – spending nearly half his scenes acting against CG characters or simply conversing with himself – because he really anchors the film. At times the lack of experience does come through, Sharma’s delivery is a bit stilted in places, but it’s hard to determine how much of that is inexperience and how much is meant to be a scared teenager talking to a tiger. Nevertheless, to be asked to handle a wide range of emotionally charged scenes would be challenging for a seasoned veteran, but for a newcomer like Sharma (whose only IMDB credit is this film) to nail the role overall is impressive to say the least.
Fans of Ang Lee’s work will know him not just as a great director, but one who delivers a unique visual style to each film he works on, and Life of Pi is no different. As previously mentioned, Life of Pi was shot in 3D, and Lee uses the strengths of that technology well. More than that, though, the way Lee photographs Pi on the raft, or his early life in Pondicherry, India is painterly, to say the least. Obviously, Lee is no stranger to special effects, and many of the film’s more awe-inspiring moments are rendered with the help of CGI, but that never diminishes the impact of seeing a tremendously vibrant scene like Pi and Richard Parker amidst a sea of glowing jellyfish as anything short of stunning.
At times the film’s visuals do call attention to themselves, and that may be off-putting to some — especially when the film changes aspect ratios to boost the 3D effect — but it’s typically in service of the storytelling. There’s an inherent artificiality to specific sequences that would have been distracting, but when considered alongside the film’s subject matter that quality works quite well. It’s a struggle to label Life of Pi‘s cinematography among the year’s best because a lot of it deals in manufactured light, sets, and even characters, but there’s no denying the film is beautiful to look at from beginning to end. And for those that are curious, the film’s 3D should be counted alongside Avatar and Hugo as the best the technology has to offer.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Ang Lee
- Screenwriter(s): David Magee
- Cast: Irrfan Khan (Older Pi)Suraj Sharma (Pi Patel)Gerard Depardieu (Frenchman) Rafe Spall (The Writer)Tabu (Pi’s Mother)Adil Hussain (Pi’s Father)Andrea Di Stefano (The Priest)
- Editor(s): Tim Squyres
- Cinematographer: Claudio Miranda
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Mychael Danna
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA