Life of Pi

In the lead up to the release of “Life of Pi”, I openly wondered why the trailers focused so much on the visuals and gave us so little of the story. In actuality, the trailers gave us essentially ALL of the story. A young man escapes a sinking cargo-liner aboard a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger on board. He then struggles to coexist with the animal and survive the ordeal.

The true subject of the film, however, is something we rarely get in movies, and thus something the film would be reluctant to “sell” in its promos.

God.

In the current day, a struggling writer (Rafe Spall) meets an Canadian from India (Irrfan Khan, the adult Pi), after being told he has a remarkable tale to tell.

Piscine Molitor Patel, “Pi” (Suraj Sharma, Pi at 16), grew up on his family’s zoo in India. As a spiritually curious young boy, he explores Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. His father makes attempts to break him of it, to get him to trust in reason and science, and for a time succeeds to an extent. Pi never completely loses his faith, however. Then, during a period of political unrest, his father decides to relocate the family to Canada. They’ll bring the animals of the zoo with them and sell them once they reach North America, fetching a better price and earning enough money to get on their feet in a new country.

Unfortunately, during a raging storm at sea, the cargo-liner they’re aboard sinks. Pi makes his way to lifeboat, but it crashes into the ocean before any other people can board. On board already, or making it on shortly after it’s away, are a small handful of animals, including a Bengal tiger. Obviously a lifeboat is not fit to hold a mini zoo, and indeed, most of the animals cannot coexist. Eventually, only Pi and the tiger are left, uneasily facing off against each other. The tiger, named Richard Parker, is vicious, hungry, and frightened. At first, Pi makes a makeshift raft and tethers it to the lifeboat, so that he can stay out of its reach. But eventually he is forced to try to stay aboard the lifeboat proper.

“Life of Pi” has seamless and believable CGI animal effects. I never questioned Richard Parker, and he was onscreen throughout the entire film. Reportedly, real tigers were used in conjunction with the effects, but in all honesty I’d have trouble telling you when. The CGI was that consistent. There are also multiple scenes where the world looks astonishing. Whether it’s the sky reflecting on the water, or phosphorescent activity below the surface, Director Ang Lee and his effects team break out the paint kit and bring out the beauty and splendor of our planet. At times, it’s breathtaking.

Just because the story is simple – a boy needs to share a lifeboat with a tiger – does not mean it’s not fascinating. Between Pi’s struggles with the tiger, and with the ocean, there are numerous opportunities for action and drama.

“Life of Pi” also has a much more open spirituality than most movies dare. Outside of religious films or films that revolve around illness, few wide-release movies broach the subject of God or spiritualism at all, let alone this openly. “Pi” does. His experiences border on a Job-like ordeal, testing his faith and causing him to open his heart to the wonders of the world. Through his narration, we’re given insight to his spiritual condition and relationship with God. It’s a much deeper subject matter than most films choose to deal with, and they address it directly.

It’s a fascinating theatrical experience. I have to admit, I was completely engrossed. Unfortunately, at the end, the viewer gets their own test of faith. I may, one day, come to think of the denouement as brilliant… to steal a line from the film, “And so it goes with God”. Answers aren’t handed to us, the illusion never parts for long, and there is no faith that arrives “leap free”. For now, though, I’m going to withhold my plusses and restrain my hyperbole until I can get my feet back squarely beneath me with the film.

Regardless, “Life of Pi” is one of the most visually striking films you’ll see all year. Highly recommended. It’s a simple, yet completely engrossing story. And running through the film is a discourse about life and God that few other movies would even choose to address.

A

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70 thoughts on “Life of Pi

    • I did. I’m still a little disappointed in the ambiguity they allowed to seep in at the end, but… there’s no denying this film’s excellence. It’s a top ten lock for me, for sure, but I need to mull it over a bit more myself to see if I place it any higher :D

      • I think the ambiguity was the entire point. Now, I haven’t read the book and was slightly distracted during the ending dialogue, so this may be speculation, but I t believe it the ending revealed it was a commentary about what people prefer to believe about the world, humans, and probably god.

        With that out of the way, read this:
        http://www.theunrealtimes.com/2012/11/25/if-life-of-pi-had-been-made-by-bollywood-directors/

        You might need some clue on Bollywood, but nevertheless, it is brilliant.

      • “I believe it the ending revealed it was a commentary about what people prefer to believe about the world, humans, and probably god.”

        Yes, for sure, ND. I think that’s absolutely the case, that’s kind of what I’ve been tiptoeing around in my replies here, when I’ve been telling people I need to work some things out/gain comfort with it.

        It definitely is saying that, but it also comes with a price of undermining the viewer of the MOVIE, I believe. I’m going to need another viewing of the film to work through my thoughts on it. But I’m not sure if that cleverness is worth the cost… if you know what I mean. :(

  1. Didn’t expect any less from Ang Lee. The film looks beautiful. Glad you enjoyed it and well deserved especially after your last feature *cough* Red Dawn *cough, hack, wheeze*

    • LOL. Dont worry, “Red Dawn” will soon be forgotten. They cant all be winners. :)

      “Pi” was though. Certainly. Challenging, and gorgeous… A lot of people are going to call it best of the year, watch. Wouldnt be surprised if it gets a best picture nom.

  2. I have reservations…mostly because I like to know the plot before I take the plunge and see a film…and I’m still confused. If it’s about a little boy, how do they throw in deep theological musings? This isn’t another Prometheus attempt, is it?

    • Prometheus? LOL. Oh hell no!

      Basically, there’s not a lot of plot. Its just a very lengthy, challenging ordeal. They work in the “musings” via events, narration, and in some cases, the boy talking out loud either to himself or the tiger. Give it a chance Livi, its worthy. Honest. ;)

  3. Hi, Fogs and company:

    Let me get this straight.

    A guy survives a ship sinking at sea. And shares his life boat with a Siberian Tiger cub who grows to full blown, awesome Siberian Tiger~dom/hood(sp.?). Is not mistaken for lunch. And lives to talk about it?!!!

    The cinematography looks lush and wonderful, but I’m not completely buying the story line.

    Otherwise, great job!

    • Almost, Jack. But the tiger is fully grown from the first moment. :D

      They do a really good job of establishing some credibility with it though. The hows and whys of how he makes it. Its an entire movie… there’s (obviously) a lot of difficulty and challenges involved.

      But yes, he survives. No spoilers. Its in the trailers, and its told by an adult narrator so right from the start you know he lives to tell the tale. Give it a chance man, you may wind up impressed!

    • It’s a Bengal Tiger. The largest cat species in the world.

      Anyway, the story really is about a man’s struggle with spirituality during duress, and the conflict people face (the Japanese insurance inspectors) when dealing with the reality of human existence. That is what I make of it.

      Now, I have a copy of the original novel Life of Pi somewhere, lying unread. I should read it.

    • You should, its definitely worth it. Very unique and different from all the other offerings out there, thats for sure. :D

      And yeah, Lee certainly has that flair for visuals. This movie may even be his best in that regard… and I’m saying that as a HUGE fan of Crouching Tiger.

      • I’m not a “HUGE” fan of Crouching Tiger, actually far from it, maybe I need to rewatch it. I mean in comparison to Hero, it was way better. I think it was more the story I didn’t enjoy. It did have some pretty good visuals.

  4. I’m glad to hear about the ambiguity. I feel as if the story would have little purpose without it, outside “oh look at this kid surviving!” Which is cool if you’re into that sort of thing, but I’m not really. I haven’t seen it yet, but I know they’ve kept the ending I will definitely have to.

    • So you’ve read the book then, huh? I double checked Wikipedia to see if the book offered more clarity, but it didn’t.

      I suppose you’re right that it might have limited the value… there is a little interpretive argument to be had now. But I felt as though it undercut the movie. Hard to express more without going into detail :( I’m sure you understand.

  5. Good review bud. It’s a beautiful-looking film that awes you from start to finish, but is probably the third or fourth flick this year that doesn’t know how to end it’s captivating story. Didn’t leave a terrible taste in my mouth, but still could have been a lot better, had they chopped things up in the end.

    • Yeah, the end definitely kept me from really like… exalting it, like I’m wont to do when I come across a really great movie. No pluses involved on the grade. It just feels like they undermined a lot of what they accomplished…

      Now that’s probably intentional, and I may eventually come to respect it. But right now, I have a little disappointment to get over, you know? :( I think you do, having read your review.

    • Huh. Very interesting article. I can’t even imagine working a script that long. Lol.

      It DID wind up a movie worth seeing though… Potentially great. There’s a thing or two I still need to wrap my head around, but this is undeniably a good one Jan. :)

    • I’d prefer not to go into much more detail than that, in case others are reading, but yes, that’s what I was referring to Vic. There were some things that got a little suspect for me right before that, too. :(

      I may come to terms with it all and raise my estimation, but for now I think that it has a couple chinks in the armor…

  6. I loved it, got the spirituality of it and I’m an atheist. This was a moving piece of art and looks like the next Oscar winner for both picture and director. Got a strong chance to make my best of list. Plus, this needs to be seen in 3D. 2D just doesn’t cut it. Really jumped when the tiger first makes his appearance on the life boat.

    • Glad you liked it – that moment with the tiger WAS startling, no?

      I’m gonna agree with you at this point. This is the type of movie that Oscar LOVES. and its worthy. I certainly think your comment has merit. I really do. PLUS, usually by this time, we’ve all started hearing rumors about what the heavy favorite is going to be (last year by now, “The Artist” had a huge Oscar buzz, for example) and we haven’t yet heard anything. So… strong possibilities there Al, there’s no denying it. You may just be right.

    • heh, I was the only one in the cinema hall who wasn’t startled! I was kinda expecting it.

      Anyway, I was touched to find that my younger daughter (5 yrs) was crying in the scene with the dying tiger. She doesn’t like conflict or violence.

      btw, I’m an atheist too, and I initially disliked the spirituality angle, but grew over prejudice to enjoy the questions posed about what we choose to believe.

      • Actually most atheists are open about exploring ideas. The only difference is that we tend to base our conclusions on evidence, not faith.

  7. Fogs, you never cease to amaze in what you see that most do or most dont. I was hoping that the soul of this adaptation would strike out for its own version of the message of a brilliant book, and at first blush it appears it does.

    Faith is a funny thing that will deliver to us all kinds of reality and in the case I was hoping for a visual feast that may leave me something more to ponder and indeed it appears so.

    Another of your great reviews! THANKS

    • Thanks Ric. Appreciate the compliments… sounds as if then you’ve read the book, but have yet to see the movie. Yeah?

      You’ll definitely be pondering. Frankly, I think I approved of things more when they were serving pure spirit with no ponder. LOL. If youve read the book, you’ll probably jknow what I mean… but that’s not to say the movie is bad at all. Great flick, and yes, a LOT of soul. a lot of spirit here.

      Thank YOU. ;)

  8. Was the CGI of the Tiger really that good?! Better than the Lion in Narnia??

    I’m reading the novel now, this is definitely a unique and thought provoking piece :D

    • Tiger was awesome, man. Seriously. I mean, you KNOW its CGI, cause, they could never get a real tiger to do those things… but your eyes wouldnt be able to tell. It looks very believeable, very impressive.

  9. I’m kinda torn on this one. I haven’t watched a “Truly Inspiring” movie in a while, and I’d probably enjoy one when it comes out in some form I could watch at home. I don’t want to watch a movie like this in the theatre.

    But CGI water and animals only look good in the theatre. I have yet to see water and animals that fool my eyes on a screen at home. Ever. I find it jarring and immersion breaking. (It’s like the uncanny valley, but I don’t think that term applies to images of animals, does it?)

    Unless this somehow becomes so culturally pervasive that I can’t understand tv talk show jokes without having seen it, I’ll probably end up skipping it.

    Great review as always. Almost sways me to see it in the theatre. I’m just not there though.

    • LOL @ the talk show joke standard. :D Thats a new one by me.

      I dont know how your home set up is or if you’d really be missing all that much in translation. That used to mean a lot more to me in the days before big screen, blu ray, etc. I can still be visually impressed by movies at home, nowadays…

      That said, it is pretty striking, and will look great in the theatre and in 3d, to boot. So, if you choose to make that leap, you wont be let down. I also think the CGI is going to hold up no matter where you see it, its really first rate, Spike. ;)

      Whether its now or at home, give it a chance in some form. Its fascinating, original and thought provoking. You dont get too many movies like that in a given year. :D

  10. I loved the fact that the trailer was ambiguous. Usually too much is revealed in the promos and parts of the movie are spoiled. Luckily Life of Pi would’ve been a hard movie to ruin since its themes are rather subtle. I loved that. I wholeheartedly agree with your A rating. This was an extraordinary film.

    • I thought that there was something more they were holding out on us, but really that’s what it was, they just went into a lot of detail. Boy, lifeboat, tiger. And they stuck with it.

      It definitely was something special… unique, too. I hope it does well, we need more original offerings like this!

  11. I like this review Fogs, and I’m glad to hear you like it so much. I have been meaning to read the book for years, but never ended up doing so. So now I’m in the quandry of o I watch the film or read the book first?

    • Well, if you’ve read the book, at least the end wont take you by surprise. From what I’ve read, the film adaptation stays faithful to the source material.

      I think it delievered, certainly, and I’ve been seeing a lot of other rave reviews. I’m sure its going to be in the mix come Oscar season, so… odds are you wont be disappointed. :D

    • It IS beautiful man. There’s no doubt about that… the visuals are incredible. The story is beautiful too, but there is some stuff towards the end that diffrent people will have varying reactions to, I suspect.

      Still, its going to be one of the year’s clear cut best. No doubt.

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