I don’t believe there will be many audience members who will not agree that Life of Pi is the most gorgeous-looking film of the year. However, the amount of personal satisfaction you will get from its story completely depends upon your own views of mythology, religion and spirituality.
Ang Lee has made a wondrous and spectacular film of staggering beauty. If the term “visual feast” is a bit of cliché now, overused by film critics, I believe it’s perfectly appropriate here. How else to describe breathtaking scenes full of thousands of fish literally flying on calm waters, the face that magically appears in the skies and a mysterious island overrun by thousands of meerkats?
Adapted from Yann Martel’s bestseller, Life of Pi tells the story of Pi (Suraj Sharma), a quirky Indian kid who’s obsessed with all of the world’s religions, as he struggles to survive on a boat after being stranded in the middle of the ocean with a majestic yet fierce Bengal Tiger. Or rather, it is the adult Pi, portrayed by the always-soulful Irrfan Khan, who tells the story to a writer (Rafe Spall).
The novel the film is based on is told in three books. The first book introduces Pi and his infatuation with the breathtaking stories found in all religions. The second book tells the harrowing yet inspiring story of Pi’s survival. The third book, well, let’s say spins things in an interesting direction.
It is your own reaction to what’s told in the third book, depicted on film as a rather hurried monologue, that will determine whether or not you will be completely sold on Life of Pi’s intriguing premise.
As an agnostic, I appreciate and fully understand what Pi’s story and the twist that follows it are trying to accomplish, but I am not entirely convinced of its relevance and was not overtaken with emotion at the reveal of the third book the way the film expected me to. It definitely does explain why Lee focuses on Pi’s religion during the entire first act when it barely registers as a useful presence during the story about the tiger.
Without hopefully spoiling anything, all I can say is that the ending left me a little cold and a bit indifferent. This will sound like blasphemy to the book’s many fans, but I could have easily done without that ending and accept this whimsical and wonderful tale as the glorious visualization of a world which employs magical realism to its advantage. The third book might work in print, but in a visual medium where the images are not left as much to the imagination, the final act is overkill, even though its point is the importance of imagination itself.
Yet I’m sure people who consider themselves more spiritual or religious than I might find Life of Pi a lot more emotionally fulfilling, as much as I found it to be visually arresting. Regardless of my opinion, this is a true children’s classic, which I would immediately recommend over any crappy cash-grab 3D animated fare.
Speaking of 3D, this is one the best uses of the technology I usually find to be nothing more than a distraction and a ploy to rob the audience from three extra dollars. If you’re going to see any 3D movie this year, make it Life of Pi.