Life of Pi (PG)
Directed by: Ang Lee
Stars: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan and Adil Hussain
Running time: 124min
A young man who survives a disaster at sea is hurtled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery. While cast away, he forms an unexpected connection with another survivor … a fearsome Bengal tiger.
It’s arguable that this movie was made for a 3D screen. Actually, that was precisely what my friend commented as we left the cinema. However, as spectacular as Ang Lee’s The Life of Pi is to watch on the silver screen, it is also deeply symbolic and carries strong messages of faith and human resilience.
With a run time of two and a quarter hours, most of that passing on a small life boat with, yes, an adult Bengal tiger, Lee’s masterpiece artfully captures and holds the viewers’ attention throughout. The Life of Pi makes a simple, human story really quite enthralling. It exists in a very limited environment, succeeding where movies such as ‘Buried’ failed.
The movie uses the old Shakespearean trick of a story within a story. It opens with a fully grown Pi, who discloses his magnificent story to an author searching not only for a grand tale, but also for an elusive belief in God. Don’t let that put you off though; Lee’s movie is, at its heart, centred more around faith, than any god. Along with the author, we are told Pi’s story; from growing up in India with his older brother, through music lessons, through falling in love, to his family’s departure from the shores of India for a better life and inevitably, the shipwreck.
I won’t disclose here how the Bengal tiger comes into it, because half the fun is waiting to see how. Rest assured it is utterly fantastical and yet portrayed in such a way that it is also utterly impossible to disbelieve.
Scenes of exposition and storytelling are interspersed by fantastical cinematography of the sea, the fish, nature’s rage and the wonders of the world. Luminous fish in the depths of the ocean light the screen in an eerie green, and the discovery of a strange island in the middle of nowhere evokes other-worldly suspicions.
The film moves at a fast pace, and exhausts every situation that could possibly occur at sea. Pi, is an extraordinary main character, who is very likeable and easy to love – a quality not often displayed in protagonists, I find. As a young boy he exhibits great interest in religion, literature and learning, so it is relatively easy to believe that he could survive alone at sea; a theme. Everything that occurs is relatively easy to believe, even though, in retrospect, it seems rather fantastical. Lee inspires within the audience an unconscious suspension of disbelief, which we don’t even notice until the credits roll.
Lee takes us through many heart-wrenching moments with Pi, and beautifully creates instances of emotionally ambiguity: there were times I was unsure whether to laugh or cry. The injection of humour was used wisely and liberally as the story could have become quite miserable. The spirit exhibited by the main character and the friendship struck between Pi and tiger really makes the movie fizz with an excited energy, fuelled further still by the wonderful exhibitions of nature. At times, it was rather like watching Attenborough’s ‘Planet Earth’ – though not in a bad way.
Suraj Sharma brings the young Pi to life with a deft emotional maturity and makes the young, lost Indian boy highly relatable; just as relatable as the Bengal tiger. The interesting relationship explored between the Tiger, whose name is too fantastic to spoil, and Pi himself (whose naming origin… is too fantastic to spoil) tones down the sense of detached loneliness that the film could otherwise suffer from. We feel the tiger’s companionship just as Pi does.
The ending potentially plants a few seeds of doubt, however, not in an “it was all a dream” kind of way; and this is not some kind of “get out of jail free” card either. It is, clearly, the point of the entire film. From a hospital bed, young Pi offers the audience a choice. I wonder what you will choose?
It is fantastic to see a film on general release with such powerful themes and meaningful messages, all hidden within the story of an unexpected journey shown through beautiful photography. The cinematic experience of this movie is second to none. Lee’s balance between the significant and the entertaining is precise and magical. This is a spectacle – and yet an old fashioned adventure story – not to be missed.