Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Life of Pi

Starring: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain, Tabu
Director: Ang Lee
Running Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes
Rating: PG

After reading Yann Martel’s novel Life of Pi, a colleague said the story “altered” him. Although Ang Lee’s film version didn’t have quite the same effect on me, the stunning visuals left me fulfilled, almost hypnotized, and the questions about spirituality had me thinking long after the credits rolled. The not-too-distracting CGI (computer-generated imagery) was beautifully reminiscent of “Avatar,” most notably a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. We feel as if we’re truly in this magical world – I almost felt seasick from being on the lifeboat with Pi – and we remain engaged in this story of discovery and survival for the entire duration of the film.

We first meet Pi, born Piscene, in present day. Irrfan Khan’s beautiful portrayal of this character makes it seem as if he truly lived the story. As a child, Pi’s family ran a zoo in India, and from an early age, Pi is heavily influenced and intrigued by religion. His father tells him that he’d rather have Pi believe in something he did not agree with, than to believe in everything. His family decides to relocate to Canada, bringing the majority of their zoo animals with them. After a wildly powerful storm sinks the ship, Pi is stranded on a lifeboat with an orangutan, a hyena, a zebra and Richard Parker, the Bengal tiger.
One of the most prominent conflicts in the story is Pi’s relationship with Richard Parker. We, like Pi, are frightened by the beast, yet our heart breaks when Pi almost chooses to let him drown. It’s also difficult to believe that Pi and Richard Parker could share something more meaningful than “you’d be a yummy snack,” though it’s what we root for.

We become totally invested in Pi’s and Richard Parker’s survival. A pencil and a survival guidebook quickly become Pi’s most cherished treasures, until he sadly loses them both. It’s apparent that Pi wants salvation – both physically and spiritually. The conflict of real versus imagined is present throughout the film – do any of us know what truly happened? Perhaps Pi’s spirituality allowed him to experience this adventure in the way that he did.

I won’t say too much about the ending, though it is a bit open-ended. We’re not given all the answers we want. Though the film is saturated with metaphors, the beautiful animals (namely the hilarious meerkats!) and striking images are enough for young children to enjoy. I opted not to see this in 3D, but have no doubt that those who do will be even further transported into this world. It’s too easy to call this a “coming of age” story; the revelations Pi experiences in this film are on a much grander scale.

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