Life of Pi is based on the best-selling novel of the same name; but if you’re unaware of the novel then you’ll certainly know of the film’s director, Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, The Ice Storm). After his last [considered failed] foray into CGI protagonists (Hulk), does he redeem himself with Life of Pi and tell a story infused with real emotion and heart? Find out after the jump.
It all begins with Pi (Irrfan Khan) telling a young writer (Rafe Spall) his story which has is rumoured to have the ability to make someone ‘believe in god’ after hearing it. The story recounts how Pi was given his name, how his family owned a zoo, and eventually how he was on board a ship that would soon crash and sink, with his entire family and all the animals from their zoo on board whilst travelling from India to Canada to start a new life.
The only survivors of course are young Pi (Suraj Sharma) and a large tiger named Richard Parker. Together they float along the ocean in a tiny boat with very few supplies, and both fight for territory on the boat as Pi is terrified of the hungry and fierce creature. What eventuates is a struggle for food, hope, understanding and sanity with both Pi and Richard having to make some form of alliance if they want any chance of survival or rescue. How does the story end? What troubles could Pi and Richard Parker encounter that make this a life affirming story you want and need to hear? To spoil any more of their adventures would be a crime of many sorts.
There are about 700 thousand ways this could’ve gone wrong or sappy, or it easily could have been just a boring and over long survival flick that attempts to throw in a message about human triumph. Thankfully Life of Pi is not that film, and that is largely thanks to director Ang Lee. Now the two things Ang Lee does best as a director and the reason why his name is known by many (no, it’s not from Brokeback Mountain jokes) is from a) his ability to extract the best performance out of almost any actor, ensembles included (see The Ice Storm) and b) his emotional storytelling. When he wants you to feel the pain and sadness of a character, he goes to hell and back to do so. Life of Pi is a serious achievement in both fronts making this, in my opinion, one of his very best films (my favourite being The Ice Storm). Having not read the novel, I can only assess the story as Lee has presented it in the film. It defies the conventions of its premise, and goes above and beyond – the amazing visuals are almost secondary to the involving story and protagonist.
The only real qualms I had with Life of Pi include it being a little too long and feeling laboured in the last half an hour (but only in sections). Some of Pi’s back story we’re given in the beginning borders on cheesy, but other than that almost every other mark is hit and the film proves to be beyond successful. The film has been criticized for its constant referencing of God and religion throughout; however I didn’t find it to be at all repetitive or blatant. It’s not a visual billboard for religion, it’s a protagonist trying to understand it as a whole and it’s never heavy-handed or unnecessary.
For many, (including myself before seeing the film) the poster, trailer and just about every bit of promotional material for Life Of Pi makes it look artificial; and I had tremendous doubts that I’d enjoy it at all. I can promise that it’s neither of those things. the focus has been the visuals and they’re merely to emphasize the emotional state of the characters and their surroundings which can be beautiful and horrific all at the same time. The large scale in which this story is told is justified making the events that follow all the more honest. This is a film that embraces its audience and wants your attention and belief rather than relying on emotional manipulation to get it. It is also one of the most beautiful looking movies you’ll ever see, a true pinnacle for digital film-making and 3D. You’ll also find it hard to fault the terrific performances from Suraj Sharma and Irrfan Khan who play the young and old Pi respectively.
Forget the trailer with the Coldplay soundtrack, Life of Pi is a symphony of genuine and emotive storytelling infused with a complex protagonist that almost matches the visual perfection presented before our very eyes, not to mention an inquisitive fascination of the human spirit – even the darker side none of us wish to acknowledge.
By Chris Elena
Director: Ang Lee
Writer(s): David Magee, Yann Martel (Novel)
Starring: Irrfan Khan, Suraj Sharma, Rafe Spall, Gerard Depardieu
Runtime: 127 minutes
Release Date(s): Australia & New Zealand: January 1, 2012; USA: November 21, 2012