Verdict: 4.5 / 5
Life of Pi has a character make a statement that is as much intended for us the viewer as for him within the movie. The Writer, an unnamed person, arrives in Canada to hear the story of the adventures of Piscince Molitor (Pi for short) an Indian immigrant. He tells that he is there because Pi has a story that can make him believe in God. Pi promises merely to tell his story, and for both the writer and for us, it then becomes our decision what the end result is.
Life of Pi is adapted from the Man Booker Prize winning novel by Yann Martel, released first in 2001. The depth of descriptive imagery lead many to believe that it would be unfilmable; that scenes relying so deeply on emotional expression and vivid spiritual places could not be fixed in a permanent form. However, if anyone was to be the one to undertake such an effort, you could not have picked a better director in Ang Lee, a man who managed to make the Hulk of all things into an almost haiku-like expression of emotion.
Pi begins his tale with background events in his youth growing up in the French Quarter of India. The vignettes about his life are amusing and entertaining and educational in equal measure; with his life involving the contrast between his father, a man fully believing that Indian superstitions is what is keeping them behind, and his more religious mother, who is the first to teach him about religion. He soon finds Christianity, and after that, Islam, and does not consider any of them to be mutually exclusive. It is during these scenes that we are also introduced to Richard Parker, a Bengal tiger in the zoo Pi’s father runs.
The primary plot of the movie is set in motion when Pi and his family leave India with all their animals for Canada, but en route their ship is lost in a storm, with only Pi and several animals in a lifeboat surviving; notably Richard Parker. From there the trial begins for Pi, not only must he survive on a small boat for an indefinite period of time; he must also do so in the presence of a large carnivore. Richard Parker is no Disney cartoon; he reacts and behaves as a real tiger would; and Pi is forced to always remember that.
The struggles of survival and the emotional strain they take on Pi are demonstrated beautifully both from the side of the actor and the director. The evolving state of Pi’s mind as events occurs is extremely well-defined. Along with this, on an external level; the beauty and the raw, frightening power of the ocean are captured at their peak. The facets of the ocean are explored to such a degree that it almost seems like another character; sometimes antagonist, sometimes assistant, but present throughout.
The question remains; does Pi’s story make you believe in God? It’s not an easy question to answer, some may find the brand of spirituality being proposed by the film as wishy-washy and non-committal to the highest degree. Others may find its meanings really do go beyond conventionally descriptions. What remains true is that any cinema lover would enjoy the beauty of the cinematography and the strength of the acting. Definitely worth a look, if only to be able to understand what the fuss is all about.