Visually Audacious Pi Another Triumph for Lee
Life of Pi isnít an easy movie to talk about. Not because it has problems, there are one or two, or because it does not entertain, it does that in spades, but more because its themes and morals are as ephemeral and as ghostly as the story spun by its central protagonist Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan). Based on the lyrical, time-bending novel by Yann Martel, director Ang Lee (The Ice Storm, Brokeback Mountain) and screenwriter David Magee (Neverland) have crafted an elliptical visual poem where truth and fiction meld into one, discovering the heart and soul of the matter more important than solving the riddles revolving around its authenticity.
Suraj Sharma in Life of Pi © 20th Century Fox
And what is that story told by the older Patel? As a young man (Suraj Sharma) he and his family, zookeepers by trade, were traveling from India to Canada by ship, their entire stock on board to be sold to a new zoo when they arrived at their new home. But tragedy strikes and their vessel is sunk, Pi the only survivor cast adrift on a lonely lifeboat in the middle of the hostile Pacific Ocean.
Scratch that, heís the only human survivor, Pi joined upon his boat by a Bengal Tiger given the curious moniker Richard Parker. The pair engage in an uneasy battle of wills, each needing the other for survival but one knowing for certain that if he gets too close his compatriot will literally eat him for dinner. Together they travel across the ocean, hoping for signs of life, the ways of the universe colliding headfirst into them their very existence hanging by a tenuous thread.
Is that it? Is this all that is going on here? Without a doubt thatís a gigantic highfalutin no, Lee and Magee doing their best to explore Martelís ideas and concepts crafting a visually audacious enigma speaking to who we really are as well as the best of who we hope to be. The journey is the point, whether it is true or not nowhere near as important as youíd think it should be, the lines between faith, spirituality, pragmatism, religion, science and nature blurring into one in the process.
In many ways there wasnít any way that Lee could have adapted Mageeís ethereal book in a straightforward manner. For maybe the very first time, maybe the only time, a filmmaker has found a way to use modern 3D technology in a way that actually services the story and propels the narrative forward. Sure James Cameronís Avatar and Martin Scorseseís Hugo looked fantastic, but they get the job done just as well in a standard visual format as they do in a three-dimensional one Life of Pi, however, needs this third dimension, in many ways thrives upon it, the way it kept drawing me deeper and deeper inside the frame key to allowing me to feel everything Pi was going through and understand his final comments, and potentially his unspoken truths, in a way I do not think I could have otherwise.
There is a slight pretentiousness to all of this that is sadly unavoidable, and I canít say every element of the journey worked nearly as well as I would have liked it to. But the way Khan tells the story and how Sharma in turn acts it out is something to behold, the latterís interactions with the (mostly, but not always, and let me tell you I couldnít ever really tell which was which) CGI-generated Richard Parker bordering on astonishing. Even though neither actor shares a scene with the other, how could they, the way they work in tandem is quite extraordinary, the pair together elevating the proceedings in a way I personally found stunning. They do wonders, both delivering performances ranking as two of the absolute best of 2012.
Iíll be curious to see how Life of Pi holds up on subsequent viewings, interested to see if it plays as well in 2D as it does in 3D (a statement I honestly thought Iíd never, ever make). Lee once again proves himself to be a master director capable of handling material of any kind, in every genre, his latest achievement just as amazing as his prior classics have been. Heís a one-of-a-kind filmmaker who enjoys tackling one-of-a-kind projects, making his decision to dive into Martelís supposedly unfilmable novel nowhere near as surprising as it potentially might have been.
Film Rating: ÍÍÍ1/2 (out of 4)