★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of 5 buckets | Friday and DVD
Rated: PG - Score scary action, emotional thematic content and peril
Release Date: November 21, 2012
Runtime: 2 hours 7 minutes
Director: Ang Lee
Writers: David Magee, based on the book by Yann Martel
Cast: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Ayush Tandon, Adil Hussain, Tabu, Rafe Spall, Gerard Depardieu
SYNOPSIS: When a family needs to sell off their collection of zoo animals, they set sail from India to Canada. When the ship sinks, only son Pi is left on a lifeboat with a ferocious Bengal Tiger.
REVIEW: Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon director Ang Lee is known as one of the finest contemporary filmmakers, making visually astounding and emotionally endearing cinematic spectacles. From a script by Finding Neverland's David Magee, from the novel by Yann Martel, Lee must create a world of intrigue and feeling on the pacific ocean with a young man, a lifeboat, and a tiger.
A writer (Rafe Spall, Prometheus) is directed to a middle-aged Indian man named Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan, The Amazing Spider-Man) with the promise of a story that will make the writer believe in God. Pi treats the writer to a meal and the story of his young life as a boy with the name of a Paris swimming club bestowed upon him by his swimmer and businessman father Santosh (Adil Hussain, The Reluctant Fundamentalist). During Pi's youth his father, along with his botanist wife Gita (Tabu, Khuda Kasam) decides to unite the Indian and French quarters of Pondicherry by using the town's botanical gardens as a zoo.
Pi becomes intrigued by a Bengal tiger name Richard Parker who his father forbids his son to interact with. When the economy starts to turn downward and it becomes uncertain whether the town will continue to support the gardens, Santosh and Gita decide to dismantle the zoo and take their sons to Canada to sell the animals and take up other jobs. On the trip, the vessel starts to sink, and only Pi, a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan, and the Bengal Tiger Richard Parker survive on a lifeboat. Soon, their survival is questioned as the ability for the predators and prey to co-exist becomes untenable. One by one, the quest to survive becomes stronger than the quest to coexist, leaving only Pi and Richard Parker to battle for survival.
The story of the Life of Pi is not just an elaborate visual spectacle centered on the waves of the Pacific Ocean with a lifeboat, a tiger, and a boy. The story starts with Pi as a middle-aged man with the unnamed writer asking for a tale to be told. We get to experience Pi's life from an early age, walking the same roads as he does as he looks to find the meaning of religion, spiritualism, an the meaning of life. By the time the actual sinking of the cargo ship occurs, the audience is already heavily and gladly invested in the discoveries and experiences of the young man Pi. What happens from that point takes on so much meaning for both Pi and the audience.
No stranger to visually stunning and visual effect heavy cinema, Ang Lee does not disappoint with Life of Pi. From the creation of all of the animals in the zoo, on the cargo vessel, and on the life boat, every creature is painstakingly rendered. The Bengal Tiger Richard Parker, both an antagonist and a protagonist, is at times fearsome and scary, as well as sympathetic and endearing. Without a well made Richard Parker, Life of Pi would only be half complete. Add in the gorgeous visual effects of the ship's sinking, the crushing Pacific waves, the beautiful mirrored glass of a calm ocean, the clouds in the day and the stars at night, and the iridescent life that exists outside the safety of the lifeboat - and you have a film that is astounding to watch even when no words are spoken.
What should we take away from this film? The story that Pi describes to the writer borders on the unbelievable. But as a tale of survival and personal growth, it is so relatable and real. What would any of us do in the same situation? A vegetarian boy versus a meat-eating tiger. The conflict is so resolute that there seems to be no way that the two of them could possibly coexist at all, for any length of time.
The 3D effects are sensational, used for perfect moments of wonder or shock. At all other times, it is used to provide that sense of depth that makes the film both surreal and real. I would recommend spending the extra few dollars just for the experience. Word of advice, Life of Pi is not for a younger audience. There are scenes of animal on animal violence that may make youngsters cry. Be sure to use your discretion when deciding to bring any boy or girl under 10 years of age.
Life of Pi is a beautiful visual experience coupled with the heart of an excellent story of survival, redemption, and regret. At the end of the film you will be asked which version of the story you believe. I like the story of a boy and a Bengal tiger better.