Life of Pi
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Movie Director: Ang Lee
Main Cast: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Tabu, Adil Hussain, Rafe Spall, Gérard Depardieu
Movie Length: 127 minutes
Release Date: 1 January 2013
Yann Martel’s 2001 novel Life of Pi was one of those works of literature that can be considered unfilmable—not only because of the impossibility of putting a teenager and a Bengal tiger in one small boat, but also because of its profound themes that are difficult to translate into the screen. And yet, renowned filmmaker Ang Lee and screenwriter David Magee have done the impossible: The Life of Pi film is manages to capture the most of the novel’s emotional depth.
Here’s how the narrative is set up: Piscine Molitor Patel, or Pi for short, is an Indian immigrant living in Canada. A novelist visits him to ask about his tale, which is said to “make anyone believe in God”. Pi provides a background about himself, his curiosity in animals because of the zoo his father owned, and his interest in knowing more about God. Some liberties were taken with Pi’s background, but these are deftly handled. In fact, while the early part of Pi’s tale is whimsical, the changes introduced added some gravity to Pi’s reluctance to leave.
Not Noah’s Ark
Pi, his family, and their animals then board a ship to Canada, where the Patel family plans to immigrate. Unfortunately, the ship ended up in the middle of a storm, which eventually sank it. The tragedy sets up the focal point of the film: Pi is marooned on a lifeboat with Richard Parker, an orang-utan named Orange Juice (name not mentioned in the film), a zebra with a broken leg, and a spotted hyena. This setup, however, is no Noah’s Ark—only Pi and Richard Parker survive. The journey towards survival is what makes Life of Pi utterly engaging.
What’s particularly remarkable about the film is that it contains no action scenes used to depict conflict. There is the occasional violence among animals, but this was necessary to illustrate that beasts are different from people. The same goes with Life of Pi’s use of 3D and computer graphics. It’s arguably the greatest use of the medium; there are no explosions, no action scenes. They served to intensify the events and add wonder to the places. The scene where the ship sinks, for example, is completely haunting—it can be seen under the waves with its lights still on. When Pi plunges underwater, the camera is positioned behind him, as if he and the ship are floating in mid-air.
Despite the difficulties encountered by Pi, he was still able to survive because of his resourcefulness, faith, and relationship with Richard Parker. It wasn’t a Disneyfied bond, mind you; Richard Parker and Pi are linked several ways: the tiger, for instance, represented Pi in his less-fantastic tale for the sunken ship’s insurance investigators. The two also struggled for space within the small boat, but in the end, the tiger learned to respect the boy, despite being a cold-blooded killer. The way the film handled this relationship, while somewhat different from the novel, is noteworthy.
Like the book, Ang Lee’s film is subject to many interpretations—why the tiger didn’t look back, which tale was real, and which story people preferred, among others. Your interpretation may be different from the person beside you, but the film’s isn’t trying to portray the truth—it’s encouraging you to believe what you want, “and so it is with God”. This discussion sparked by the film is testament to its overall quality. There should be more films like Life of Pi; and hopefully, we should watch them as well.
About the Author:
This article was written by Michael. Michael is a huge movie buff and has written hundreds of movie reviews, many of which can be found on movies.com.au.
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