Life of Pi

Directed by: Ang Lee

Starring:  Suraj Sharma, Tabu, Adil Hussain, Irrfan Khan, Gerard Depardieu

Many years ago, I read Yann Martel’s coming of age tale Life of Pi. When I first learned that the novel was being turned into a film, I was a little skeptical.  I found it difficult to believe that the true emotional weight of the tale could be translated to film.  However, when I discovered that Ang Lee was at the helm, I actually began to get excited about the adaptation.  I was certain that the director who brought us such films as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain could bring this story to the big screen with skill.  Lee did not disappoint and has delivered a beautiful, sweeping film.

Piscine Molitor Patel (adult “Pi”) (Irrfan Khan) lives in Canada.  He is visited by writer (Rafe Spall) who is suffering from writer’s block.  The writer wants to write a book about Pi’s life.  Pi opens up and begins to talk about his upbringing.  Pi grew up in India.  He was named after a famous pool in France called the Piscine Molitor.  Unfortunately for him, Piscine sounds a little too much like “pissing” and he is teased mercilessly growing up.  A clever young Piscine uses math to earn the nickname Pi to avoid the endless urination jokes that only kids could come up with.

Pi lives a simple, but wonderful life with his family.  Pi, his mom (Tabu), his dad (Adil Hussain) and his older brother run a zoo filled with orangutans, zebras, monkeys, and even a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.  As a young boy, Pi grows up loving nature, loving animals and most significantly, religion.  Pi opens himself up to different faiths, much to the chagrin of his father and practices Islam, Hinduism, and Catholicism.  His faith shapes his worldview.

When Pi is sixteen years old (Suraj Sharma), his father decides to sell the zoo and move to Canada.  The zoo is no longer profitable and his father makes the decision to begin a new life elsewhere.  The family boards a Japanese freight ship with the zoo animals and sets off for their new life.  In the middle of the trip, the ship is destroyed by a powerful storm.  Pi escapes on a life boat, but is stranded with a wounded Zebra, an Orangutan, a hyena and a Bengal tiger.  The film follows this castaway as he struggles to survive the animals on the boat, the sharks in the water, the brutality of nature and hunger.  On his journey of survival, he discovers who he is and what faith means and the power of God.

Life of Pi is incredibly beautiful to watch.  Lee has brought the book’s vivid imagery to life and he depicts nature in a way that nature itself is a character—from the ocean to the rain to the whales to the land—nature is either Pi’s best friend or his worst enemy.  That is most true with Pi’s co-star Richard Parker, the tiger.  I was blown away by the tiger.  I know that several real tigers were used, but much of Richard Parker’s performance involved CGI.  What Lee did to bring the tiger to life was frankly unbelievable.  Much of the film, Pi is trapped on a boat with a tiger and I believed he was on a boat with a tiger.  I honestly cannot say that I have seen a more seamless CGI animal depiction and my hat is off to the filmmakers.

In addition, all of the actors who play Pi at different ages throughout the film deliver strong performances.  Suraj Sharma as the sixteen year old Pi has the hardest role, and he gives a solid performance as Pi.  He is certainly no Tom Hanks, but he brings humor, heart and passion to his character.

My chief criticism of Life of Pi is the ending.  Having read the book, I had certain expectations.  I think there was a failure in that we were taken into Pi’s world visually.  We’re in the lifeboat with him and Richard Parker. Without giving away the story, I think the film ends in a narrative fashion with an actor who could not quite convey the horror and pain of Pi’s tale, and I think the use of a visual flashback would have been more poignant, and would have delivered a much more powerful end.

With all of that being said, Life of Pi is a beautifully directed, epic tale that ponders serious questions about faith and humanity.  Life of Pi earns a strong .03 rating.  Have a green apple Smirnoff Ice with this one.