First of all, if you like to enjoy a film in its purest and unanticipated sense, just know Ang Lee’s Life of Pi is a spectacular cinematic experience. Now stop reading and go see it. For the rest of you, prepare yourself for The People’s Critic to convince you that you should find a two-hour break in your day to go see this movie.
Ang Lee has been one of those directors who can shatter cultural bias and stereotype and make films that cut to the bone of virtually any genre, culture, or philosophy. A Taiwanese filmmaker, Lee disappears into his material like no other filmmaker. His personal stamp on a film is simply that he gets it right. The Ice Storm revealed his ability to poetically peel the layers off of the American suburban lifestyle and reveal some of the chaos that lies beneath the calm, picturesque surface. His adaptation of Jane Austen’s Victorian Romance Sense and Sensibility was pitch perfect. Additionally he has shown a steady hand at vividly visual genre films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain. These films bare little resemblance to each other, except that they “get it right.” Furthermore, no better example for Lee’s “getting it right” can be given than his adaptation of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi.
Life of Pi is a narrative framed by Pi as an adult(Ifran Kahn) telling his story to a writer. This frame story can be summed up by paraphrasing a quote by the writer who says he’s a Canadian who went to French-India looking for a story only to find there’s an Indian in French-Canada with a story to tell. The film then transports us back to French-India in the late 1970s where Pi(now played by Suraj Sharma) begins an epic tale of self-discovery.
Now, clearly most viewers will be eagerly awaiting the story of the guy on a boat with a tiger, but this film is much more than this. It is a religious film, but it does not preach. Instead, it takes into consideration all of the ideas, beliefs, doubts, and misconceptions that exist and simply tells a story. Do not overlook or underestimate the film’s opening act; the setup is as rewarding as the visual magnificence that is to follow. Needless to say, it is the visual effects and cinematic beauty that will doubtless be the conversation surrounding Life of Pi and deservedly so. From the moment the map of the Mariana Trench appears on the screen, hold on to your seats! No film, including Avatar, has achieved this level of visual grandeur with 3D technology. What is more, Life of Pi exists right here on our own planet. Lee’s careful precision as a director, takes full advantage of every opportunity to amaze the audience with wonder.
Inevitably, Pi does find himself in the unique situation of living on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. However, this is all that is unique about it. Many films have explored the survivor element of what the limits of human endurance are. What allows Pi to rise above those is the spiritual depth that is created from the film’s opening act and the awe-inspiring visual effects that are second to none.
Life of Pi is a low-key masterpiece. It sneaks up on you and while not complicated, welcomes multiple viewings. The opening credits depicting animals happily living in captivity holds new meaning after experiencing the film for the first time. Lee presents a very enjoyable and thought-provoking version of Martel’s widely admired source material. It was said that Life of Pi was one of those unfilmable stories- that it can exist in the mind of the reader and nowhere else. Lee has proven those skeptics incorrect; however, this film is more than a companion or adaptation of the novel. It has surpassed that into something much more special and distinctive. A