Life of Pi (review)

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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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Sat, Dec 22, 2012 1:59am

I SO want to see this. Most theaters around here have already given up it’s screens, though. It’s too bad that it’s mostly been ignored by the general public. 
I also heard that it’s one of the few movies worth seeing in 3D. Which version did you see?

Thu, Dec 27, 2012 2:55am

Wow. No one else commented on this yet?  Just me and…me?
Well, anyway, I took my son to see it Christmas Eve morning. In 3D, too.
We both enjoyed the movie, but I notice your review completely ignores the overly long Act 1 of the movie that introduces Pi and his family. It took forever to get to the “A boy and his tiger” part of the story. Ang could have cut half of the exposition and it would have been just as effective, IMHO.
I also thought some of the scenes in the middle dragged on too long.
It WAS a beautiful film. The visuals and the tiger are really what make it worth seeing.
I think the hype did me in. I was expecting more out of it. And yes, I did read the book, so I knew the basics.
Too bad this movie has sunk like a rock. I’d like to get other opinions on it. Oh, well.

Tue, Jan 08, 2013 2:36pm

So sad it has disappeared from 3D theatres in your part of the work so early.
Life of Pi is simply astonishing on a big screen in 3D.
I know people mention the long exposition at the beginning , but it’s crucial in establishing Pi’s subsequent relationship with the beast.
For me, the most thoughtful film since Mystic River.
And simply the most beautiful-looking film ever made.
Go on Pi’s journey, and enjoy.

Wed, Mar 13, 2013 5:22am

I was reluctant to see this film – it seemed pretty stupid and boring, a boy on a tiger marooned on a boat in the middle of the ocean. All the promotion emphasises this aspect of the film, as if there is nothing else. But curiosity prompted me to see it on a plane – and I saw that there is so much more! The viewing on seatback video prompted me to see it at a cinema – alas not in 3D – and I can now see that It is beautifully filmed, and utterly charming. People who couldn’t wait for the marooned-with-a-tiger bit have no patience. The only aspect of this film that saddens me is that it was on the way back from a screening in Delhi that a lovely young woman was kidnapped, raped and mirdered – it was hard to get this out of my mind. Such a contrast between the gentleness of the fim and the brutal act that followed.

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 12:25pm

I’ve just seen this now that it’s released online. Yes, it’s astonishingly beautiful, but I don’t find it compelling or even (ironically) a good story. There’s a very elaborate narrative presented, followed by a very brief summary of an alternative reading of the events. When the question is asked “which version do you prefer” I instantly responded “the other story” because there was the promise of drama and human conflict there. Not so much in Pi’s story and not so much in this film. You can read a lot into it, but I think that the audience has too big a hole to fill.

Coming from Southampton, I already knew about the real Richard Parker – a shipwrecked cabinboy who was eaten by the other survivors in his lifeboat and who has a memorial in this city.

The lesson that I shall take home from this film is “don’t piss off shapeshifting vegetarians”.