Review: Life of Pi (2012) Movie

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Went and saw this last night with eldest son.  It was fantastic. I recommend 3D as this film is very colourful and cinematic. You will want to enjoy its epic sweep in 3D.  I read the book a few years ago, and recommend you do that too. This is a great adaptation.  I wondered how they would actually do it, as the book is almost impossible to adapt visually but Taiwanese director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain; Crouching Dragon/Hidden Tiger – there’s that tiger again) and David Magee (screenplay) (Finding Neverland) pulled off an amazing job.

Plot: Indian family of Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel, sells up their zoo on land they rent and decide to move to Canada; sell the animals in North America and build a new life. Ship is lost at sea, Pi survives with a few animals in a life boat and raft, the final being a large vicious Bengal Tiger (called Richard Parker). Pi survives (just) for 277 days on a raft tied to the lifeboat by a rope in which the tiger is stranded. That’s all I’ll say.

French (now Russian) actor Gerard Depardieu is the cook on the ship, but the others are not known.  Pi is brilliantly played by a series of various aged Pi.s  His name is really Piscine Molitor (a French swimming pool) or “Pissing” as his schoolmates call him, thus later “Pi” to avoid bullying. This is all well-explained in the movie.

I love the opening sequence where the movie moves in slowly, capturing the magic and wonder of the animal kingdom created by God.  This is quite a metaphysical film, with Pi traversing Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. It asks who we are and how God communicates with humanity.

There are some wonderful scenes. I noted particularly the dramatic sinking of the ship, the whales, the flying fish episode, and of course the drama throughout with a massive tiger in a boat just a stone’s throw away where all the canned food and water is. There is a lovely moment when the tiger is hanging on to the side of the lifeboat and the boy/tiger have a moment with their eyes.

I think Lee spent a lot of time filming an actual tiger in a lifeboat, as any CGI is invisible to detect, the tiger is completely real all the time.

The movie portrays the realities of this implausible scenario with brilliant detail, to the point you can imagine it totally happening (how to get water to the tiger; what will it eat? etc). There were no cringe moments.

The book and film have one of the best endings ever, on a par with Sixth Sense (aka I See Dead People).  Go and see it to find out, no spoiler here.

The characters are strong, including the tiger, and I liked the humans at the beginning, especially the uncle with the expanded chest and the transparent luxuriousness of the French swimming pool.

This is a movie about the power of story, and how “science” knows only some, religion knows a whole lot more.  Those who mock religion and live in know-it-all science castles with trite factual answers to everything, would benefit from seeing this great film.

For me there are some key dialogue moments that reveal what the movie is really about: the Christian priest in India (we cannot understand God in His perfection, so he came as one of us, to be accessible); Pi’s mother interpreting Pi’s father’s rationality (head vs heart); Pi’s conversations with God in the lowest moments amid the storms; and Pi’s wrap-up about what is true at the  end of the film with the writer looking for a story for a novel. “Which story do you prefer?”  “The ship sinks and I lose my family in both, so which is better?”  ”What do you see Richard Parker? Tell me. Speak to me!”.

I get that “story” is intended to be wonderful and used to portray emotions, mysteries, nuances that help us explain, see and wonder. This is what poetry, music and art are all about. The film seeks to explain to us that the meanings and function of stories can be many things, on many levels, because that is what humans are like.  This is the obvious contrast with a marooned boy named after a mathematical formula, and the number Pi which is infinite and is not divisible. Look for the conclusions about what actually happened by the Japanese insurance assessors at the end, in their report to the Japanese company who owned the ship.

There is just more to life and the universe than 1+1=2.  You could say 1+1 = phosphorescent plankton (the smallest creature in the sea feeding the largest mammal ever known). One of my favourite quotes helps sum up this movie. Pablo Picasso, perhaps the artist of the 20th century, said, “Art is a lie that helps us to understand the truth.”

I heartily recommend this film to parents of children, lovers, philosophers, people interested in the oddity of life, and probing the depths of who God is, and why this world.

Life of Pi was written by Yann Martel and first published in 2001, after suffering several publisher rejections (like Harry Potter).  It was a runaway success and has won many awards.  Now the film adaptation has collected some gongs too.

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