If for nothing more, Ang Lee’s new film, Life of Pi, deserves notice for its beauty – stunning imagery and vivid colors. More importantly, key from my point of view, his is a film where the 3D actually enhances the experience, making it visually all the more impressive. In terms of story, I found some aspects wholly pleasing and others utterly unsettling, especially as an animal lover, but even with moments of disquietude, I couldn’t help but become involved in the extraordinary tale of survival.
From the onset, Life of Pi, an adaptation of Yann Martel’s 2001 award-winning, best-selling novel — about a 16-year-old boy nicknamed Pi adrift at sea for 227 days with a churlish Bengal tiger — is breathtaking and gorgeous. Set up as a reflection, with the elder Pi (Irrfan Khan) retelling his tale to an author, the Life of Pi, chronicles his remarkable journey after the ship – on which he, as a young man (Suraj Sharma), his family and all their zoo animals travel – encounters a storm and sinks, leaving him, an injured zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and soon a adult Bengal tiger, stranded in the middle of the ocean on a life boat.
With Oscar winning Lee at the helm, this film is poetry for the eyes, gorgeous to a fault, breath-taking and awe-inspiring – a virtual smorgasbord of remarkable images. Schools of flying fish streak across the sky, some landing in Pi’s boat, dark, eerie clouds in wondrous shades of blues and greys line the endless horizon, massive, churning waves mercilessly toss the tiny boat and Pi’s makeshift raft (to separate himself from the man-eating tiger) about like matchsticks and the images go on and on – star-filled night skies, sharks slinking and circling below the surface of the water, ominous and disheartening and a astonishing island with a plethora of amazing spectacles.
Because the story places animals – some predators and others natural prey – in a small space, horrific things happen, beginning with a zebra’s fall from the ship’s deck into the dinghy far below – breaking its legs and moving through desperate attacks onboard the small vessel – all of which prickled my skin. Thankfully, the majority of the story follows Pi’s plight to survive the elements and the tiger “Richard Parker.” In another director’s hands all the animal aggression could completely ruin a film, and it still did for my friend who walked out of the screening, but Ang’s masterful use of CGI weaves a tapestry of marvelous images.
Like my friend, some might find Ang’s Life of Pi a bit too much. The elder Pi’s uncle promises the author, who seeks to write Pi’s story, that it will make him believe in God. I can’t say he accomplishes this feat. In its final scene we are offered an alternate story, which, in my opinion is the truth of what happens in the Pi’s days adrift – a far more horrifying story – one that tears at the heart and one that by all accounts should make Pi detest any higher being, though he does not.
The film’s cast is strong (Shamar is notably good) and lives up to the films grandeur, although the characters are minor to Ang’s metaphorical presentation of story’s themes. Visually Ang’s film surpasses expectations. Of course, it is not a film for everyone. My friend offers proof of that. Ang and his cast deserve an A, but overall, I can only give it a B+, because the story simply doesn’t live up to the film’s outstanding imagery.