Directed By: Ang Lee
Written By: Yann Martel (novel), David Magee (screenplay)
Starring: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain
Faith can provide us a certain set of comfort when dealing with life’s most complex issues. People set their faith in a number of different areas in order to better understand our true purpose. Some argue that faith is illogical and use scientific reasoning as a means to better understand the miraculous. Ang Lee’s latest film Life of Pie is an isolating adventure that analyzes the relationship of man and his reliance in the divinity of life. The messages are obvious and forceful yet never offensive. Some may argue it simplifies the complex to arrive at its desired destination, but even if you refuse to accept its idealistic principles you can get invested in a human drama full of daring visuals. Life of Pie transforms a story of survival into a bold tale of humanity’s greatest strengths and darkest failures. Layering its narrative with thrilling adventure and awe-inspiring special effects makes you welcome its desire to reach for larger aspirations.
Life of Pie is actually a story within itself. In the film a middle aged Pi Patel, played by Irrfan Khan, recants his adventure to a writer’s blocked novelist, who was told Pi’s story would make him believe in God. Before the adventure begins we learn about Pi, his family, and his life growing up in India. Book ending a film like this is not a new concept. We have seen it before in films like Titanic, where an elderly woman retells her tragic and bittersweet love affair. Here it is more than a framing device as it plays a vital role in the understanding of the film’s themes. Setting it this way makes questioning and speculation not feel out of place. It welcomes you to wonder about the validly of the unbelievable tale you are being told. Similar to a fable, what is true and what is fabricated is not important. The importance lies within the telling of the story and the significance of its motivations.
Pi’s story is one of great loss, insurmountable struggle, and the will to survive. Living in India Pi had a unique life many children would dream for. Perhaps the most intriguing part was where he lived; a zoo full of exotic and dangerous animals. We also learn that Pi is a type of person who asks many different questions and accepts many different answers. We see this in his wiliness to follow a multitude of religions all at the same time. Even when many around him feel that this lifestyle is blasphemes he continues to live his life open and free. Quickly we begin to see the film’s premise take hold. For those who assumed they were in for a straightforward adventure will begin to realize this is something more. Our culture today is hostile when it comes to topics of this nature. Religion and politics are the two things you are never supposed to talk about. Knowing that you would assume the film would be delicate in its approach. Instead it consistently hits you with heavy handed broad strokes. You would think such a blatant attempt to manipulate the audience would ruin a movie.
A number of factors stop that from happening. First it never hides what it’s doing, and even acknowledges the dangers of tackling these issues. The second and biggest reason is the amount of fantastic filmmaking it loads in frame after frame. Financial issues cause Pi’s family to move to a new home. They pack up everything , including their animals, onto a boat out of India. During the trip to their new destination a nasty storm hits and sinks their vessel. During the chaos Pi becomes the stranded sole survivor a drift at sea waiting for rescue. His sole companion is an unlikely one…a dangerous Bengal tiger that he forms an unusual companionship with.
This doesn’t just take the stereotypical survival story, throw a tiger in, and call it a day. Ang Lee’s direction is top notch taking this mound of creativity and forming a narrative full of thrilling adventure. Special effects typically try to transform the audacious into a reality. Taking a spaceship jumping through galaxies and making it look as genuine as a jumbo jet landing at our local airport is the norm. The effects in this pull-off the opposite effect, taking what nature gives us and making it look fantastical. A florescent glimmer is placed on a humpback whale as it slowly transcends the water in a feat of beauty and grace. The ocean becomes motionless turning into a picture esc reflection of this secluded journey. The use of real life tigers and computer animation was meticulously intertwined. You knew what was real and what wasn’t however cunning editing made those transitions seamless. There are moments in this unlike any other I have ever experienced in an art form. Not only did the artistic direction look amazing it was used in unique and inventive ways.
Respect also needs to go to Suaj Sharma, who played Pi during much of the film. Acting against a green screen with no one else but your imagination is no easy task. He had no trouble making you believe he was in this situation. With everything else going on its easy to forget what an important piece he was to make this all work. Watching him go from a grief stricken boy to a hardened man put a ribbon on a perfectly wrapped gift. From the start you know where the relationship of Pi and the tiger will end up. At least that’s what you would think. Their relationship is a perfect representation for this movie as a whole. On the surface level it’s a tension filled struggle that relentlessly engages you. Inside is a theoretical dilemma wrestling with life biggest quandaries. It’s easy to ignore those moments if you so choose. They richen the movie without taking away from the exciting quest. Imaginative visuals alone make this one of the best films of the year thus far. A mark of a good movie is one that will stay with you long after you’ve watched it. If you dive in completely you will get lost in the infinite array of ideas to dissect, or you can stay on the surface level and just partake in the spectacle.