Life of Pi
Life of Pi is a thoughtful parable that will enchant the entire family. Its imaginative qualities suggest both the adventure of Robinson Crusoe and the stylistic elegance of The Black Stallion. But while Pi favorably recalls those stories, there’s a philosophical bent entirely its own that infuses the storyline. Life of Pi is a stunning drama that blends photography, magical realism and religion into a unique chronicle about perseverance.
Our protagonist is the son of a zookeeper from Pondicherry, India. In the first part, Pi Patel reminisces on his childhood. He is named Piscine Molitor after a swimming pool in France where the water was “so clear, you could make your coffee there.” However he soon shortens it to the mathematical symbol π when his classmates purposefully mispronounce the moniker as “pissing” in jest. No ordinary boy, Pi is naturally curious and intelligent. Having been raised as a Hindu, he is also equally drawn to the monotheistic religions of Christianity and Islam. His worldview is a seemingly incompatible mixture of all three. Concerned with worsening economic conditions and the fate of his zoo, Pi’s father decides to sell off the zoo animals and move his family to Canada. While traveling on a Japanese ship transporting a few of the creatures, their vessel capsizes in a storm.
Our saga is a contemplation on death and survival. Much of the action concerns Pi’s time marooned aboard a small lifeboat drifting aimlessly on the Pacific Ocean with a spotted hyena, an injured zebra and an orangutan. Breathtaking visuals heighten the images offered in both 2D and 3D prints. The cinematography is vivid and lush. CGI is used inconspicuously to allow the animal characters to act in a way that is credible. You’d think that placing most of the action within such a restrictive setting would severely limit interest, but this is where the real story begins. Another stowaway makes his presence known later, The relationship between Pi and Richard Parker, a Bengal tiger, form the vast majority of the plot. Their antagonistic interaction constitutes a very integral component. Will they be able to co-exist while still respecting the other’s space? Their relationship and Pi’s fight to stay alive becomes a deep reflection on perseverance.
On the surface, Life of Pi is a tale of survival involving a teenager from India set adrift on a boat with a tiger. Not having read the source novel, I can only asses what is presented here. If indeed, Yann Martel’s book is as unfilmable as everyone says, I can only applaud director Ang Lee. His adaptation is an unqualified success. Lee’s capacity to simplify Martel’s novel into a cinematic work that is easily accessible for all ages, is masterful. There is an artistry in the middle section of the movie that finds a quiet beauty in simply existing. Its themes of spirituality and romanticism are explored with a maturity and depth that will entertain adults, but still delight children. The narrative explores faith as an existential meditation that transports the viewer to a story far beyond a mere shipwreck. There are lingering questions as to what we’ve just witnessed. However, I wasn’t too preoccupied with such matters. I was absolutely enthralled with this spectacle detailing a gorgeous voyage of personal discovery.