Release Date: November 21, 2012
Director: Ang Lee
Stars: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Rafe Spall
Runtime: 127 min
If 1997’s Titanic won eleven Oscars, this should get twelve.
Based on the best-selling novel by Yann Martel, this is an incredible story of adventure and discovery, centering on Pi Patel, the curious son of a zoo keeper. He and his family hail from Pondicherry, India, but they want to move to Canada to seek a better life. They hitch a ride on a large cargo ship that is destined to sink. After a shipwreck, Pi finds himself adrift on a 26-foot lifeboat accompanied by an orangutan, a zebra, a hyena and a fearsome Bengal Tiger called Richard Parker.
The film starts out with a beautiful opening sequence with multiple animals running all over the screen, as if they are running off of Noah’s Ark. Then from there, it gets right into the story.
An older Pi tells his life story to a writer through flashbacks and reflection. Since an older Pi is telling the story, there’s no question of whether or not he survives or not. The story is not about that question, it is about how he survives. Irfan Khan (that one Indian guy from Slumdog Millionaire and The Amazing Spider-Man) portrays the older Pi, while the younger Pi is portrayed magnificently by acting newcomer Suraj Sharma. Like Dev Patel’s film debut in Slumdog Millionaire, this is a great and promising start to a career. We, the audience, have the pleasure to watch a star being born. The only other really known actor (to the Western World, at least) is Rafe Spall (Anonymous, Prometheus, Hot Fuzz), who portrays the writer who may just sell Pi’s life story.
Pi’s story is a very interesting one. We see him grow up as a very curious boy that gets mocked at school because of his name (he gets called Pissing for a short period of time because his real name is Piscine). He is also a young boy of self-discovery who is interested in Hinduism, Catholicism and Muslim beliefs. He doesn’t know who he is quite yet, a feeling all of us experience when we are young. When Pi and his animal friends set adrift to the center of the Pacific Ocean because of the unfortunate shipwreck, the majority of the animals don’t last very long. They say their hello’s, and then soon enough the quick good bye’s come around and Pi and Richard Parker are the two remaining beings. They start off as sort of how an only child might feel if an adopted child is brought home, they both are skeptical of each other, and because of that they must keep their distance. Over time, the bond grows, and Pi and Parker become beings that must rely on each other. This transition is quite beautiful. Who said a man’s best friend can only be a dog?
The measure of faith that Pi possesses is inspirational, and brings some great themes of religion and hope to the feature. The CGI effects are great and the visuals are magnificent. The hailing of this being the next Avatar is quite accurate (in regards to the visual beauty, only). The story is about as great as Slumdog Millionaire, and the shipwreck sequence is both thrilling and terrifying, comparable to both White Squall and Titanic.
This film is not fit for the faint of heart. The shipwreck sequence is exciting and terrifying and very intense. There are also many sequences involving the tiger and other aspects. The viewer knows that the tiger is in the lifeboat, but we do not know where exactly he is, or when he will jump out and roar. This really brings on the conflict of man vs. carnivore. Other conflicts are: man vs. nature, and man vs. self (oh, and man vs. CGI; ha, ha). Both Pi and Richard must fight against waves and crazy storms. Pi struggles with his own faith and wicked hunger.
Life of Pi is a near-perfect film that gets its pacing thrown off at the ending. The ending raises questions of all the events that have preceeded it, and it adds a great sense of ambiguity. Nonetheless, it is very thought-provoking.
Life of Pi is a visually beautiful film, it’s surprisingly funny, it has a great story, great direction, wonderful cinematography, great conflicts and relationships, and it has many aspects of it that can be magnificent, terrifying, thought-provoking and saddening. The actors bring it all to the table, and short list of performers carry the film very well. This is one of the best films of the year that will be a large Oscar contender. If you’re going to see this, see it in its full 3D glory.