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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Life of Pi (review)

Life of Pi green light

I’m “biast” (pro): love Ang Lee’s movies
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Hey, it’s Cast Away, except Wilson is a tiger. No, wait: it’s the first black-light-poster movie! No, wait, it’s We Sold a Zoo. Aw, but I kid my buddy Ang Lee (Taking Woodstock), whose movies are full of life and joy and wonder even when they aren’t the least bit fantastical, and here, where we cannot be entirely sure what’s real and what isn’t, his vision is even more moving in the most unexpected of ways.

A teenager named Pi (newcomer Suraj Sharma, who is absolutely gorgeous and, if there is any justice, will be a huge star) is shipwrecked with the zoo animals his family was transporting from India to Canada to their new owners, and now Pi finds himself adrift in the middle of the Pacific in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

And that’s only the beginning of how Lee — working with screenwriter David Magee (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day) from the novel by Yann Martel — gleefully challenges us every step of the way to go, “Hey, wait a second, that’s ridiculous!” Nothing here is plain-ol’ ludicrous but double helpings of preposterous with a topping of grade-A outrageous absurdity, in the most delectable way, from the dreamy Maxfield Parrish sunsets Pi and Richard Parker enjoy together in uneasy companionship to the phosphorescent nighttime ocean waters that draw the attention of whales to the bizarre island they wash up on (which does at least have meerkats — you cannot ever go wrong with meerkats).

You could just wallow in the visual lavishness of this movie and not think at all about what it “means” and be blown away by it. And yet the improbability of it all is very much to calculated effect, for this is a story about the resilience of the human mind under the most trying of conditions, and about faith, of the religious kind, that even the nonfaithful can appreciate because it doesn’t pretend to be about the truth of religion but about the reasons some believe in it.

For in the framing story, the adult Pi (Irrfan Khan: The Amazing Spider-Man) is relating his adventures — we could almost call it the Parable of Pi — to a journalist (Rafe Spall: Prometheus) who may write a book about Pi’s survival, and so we’re very much aware that the story he is telling may not be a factually accurate recount but perhaps more of an emotionally faithful one. Are allegories more comforting than the truth, and if so, what does that say about us?

As fanciful as Pi’s story may be, it is so very grounded in human reality. It is the kind of story that thrill me the most: it’s about the power and importance of story itself.

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Life of Pi (2012) | directed by Ang Lee
US/Can release: Nov 21 2012
UK/Ire release: Dec 21 2012

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated W for whoa-inducing imagery and ideas
MPAA: rated PG for emotional thematic content throughout, and some scary action sequences and peril
BBFC: rated PG (contains mild language and threat)

viewed in 3D
viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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