Life of Pi

Review No. 384


The Bottom Line: Life of Pi, or crouching tiger, hidden spirit.

Directed by: Ang Lee
Written by: David Magee
Based on: “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel
Pi: Sujar Sharma
Pi (adult): Irrfan Khan
Pi (age 11/12): Ayush Tandon
Pi (age 5): Gautam Belur
Also Starring: Adil Hussain, Gérard Depardieu, Po-Chieh Wang, Rafe Spall, Tabu

Distributed by 20th Century Fox on November 21, 2012. Produced in English by the United States. Runs 127 minutes. Rated PG by the MPAA for emotional thematic content throughout, and some scary action sequences and peril.

Life of Pi was watched on January 5, 2013.

“It was a time filled with wonder that I’ll always remember.” –Irrfan Khan as Pi Patel

The way Ang Lee captures Life of Pi works akin a renowned singer attempting to serenade an audience, while he or she has a slight cold. Ever since it was published in 2001, the Yann Martel novel was considered “unfilmable.” I have not yet read it, but from what I hear, the case parallels that of J.D. Salinger’s classic The Catcher in the Rye, which has been around for six decades and still awaits a film adaptation. In order to succeed, the production would require a specific director, producer, writer, and cast, each of these fundaments following strict guidelines.

And it’s incredible indeed that Ang Lee nails it. There’s beauty, atmosphere, and depth here, leading to a twist ending that defines the film, and even works as humbly as the rest of it.

But where the film does fall apart is where it meets its unfortunate plague. The writing is hit-and-miss—the dialogue is as spectacular, rejuvenating, and heartwarming as the tale itself; but certain actions during the climax bear a disregard to pace, dragging on and cutting short by mere whim.

Yes, the film was over-advertised. Yes, we’ve all seen this picture on countless occasions. Yes, I’ve gotten over both factors by seeing the movie.

But the aforementioned is one of very few missteps, mind you. Life of Pi is stunning, particularly for a feature wholesome enough for the entire family. It’s very likely that although young kids will find the zoo-like atmosphere of the film enthralling, their parents and siblings will be equally involved in the curious, more spiritual subject at hand.

Pi was born under the name Piscine, named after a body of water that was near and dear to his family. He opted to change his name to the shortened π, the eighteenth letter in the Greek alphabet and the irrational mathematical value. Pi explains that he was harassed because his name was often mistakenly pronounced “pissing,” even by teachers, when he was a young boy.

Seeing that he is an introvert, it’s a bit hard to believe that Pi would so firmly establish the correction; the scene in which this is explained seems a joke at first, but it’s just one of several elements of foreshadowing. Perhaps Pi cared less that he himself was being juvenilely tormented, than that the beauty in his name was being mocked.

This grows clearer through each passing scene in Life of Pi. Pi realizes his unconditional love for animals. While perusing the zoo his family runs, he visits a caged Bengal tiger because he can feel the emotion it feels just by looking in its eyes. He is told that it’s a lifeless, bleeding creature that will kill anything it hungers for, be it a human or a goat.

Before he is even thirteen years old, Pi has decided to practice three religions at once; in an unexpected sense, his appreciation for Islam, Catholicism, and Hinduism simply increases his pagan beliefs, regarding harmonious equality between animals and humans.

Pi is told at the age of sixteen that his family is selling their zoo in India and moving to Canada. Before the cargo ship has traveled halfway through its route, the majority of the crew, passengers, and animals have died as the result of a thunderstorm. The remaining crew eventually becomes no one but Pi himself and the same Bengal tiger. On one hand, Pi is facing his fears, out at sea, starving, nauseous. On the other, he is gaining a personal experience he could only dream of in prior times, as he bonds with the one flesh-and-blood animal left in his life.

Life of Pi offers grand cinematography as a complement to its larger-than-life story. This is a must-see on the big screen, something that far from matches the term “home video.” Delivered in 3-D, the film trades authenticity through what seems an entirely technical medium.

Although this is often subtle, Pi’s adventure is as realistic visually as it is substantially. I speak of the beautifully panned bird’s eye shots that make you feel a seagull glancing down at a boy and his tiger; the threaded visions of wonder mounted through our hero’s eyes.

Life of Pi could have been better in translating its written side, but it stands a tremendously memorable juggernaut in its technical realm. This is an exquisite gem that comes so close to fantasy, yet it’s moving, convincing, and real. I felt nauseous after seeing it in 3-D. Part of it comes from that I was eating popcorn as Pi extrapolated gorgeously on a dot, while spending half the film on a small boat, hindered by rocking waves. Although I can connect in almost no ways with the character, I guess I felt like Pi just being at a cinema; simply watching such an adventure made me feel part of it.


Best Director (Ang Lee); Best Cinematography


11 thoughts on “Life of Pi

  1. This was one of my favourite films of last year, I thought it was brilliant. I thought it took a little while to get going – too much time spent on laughing at his name, etc – but I thought it looked fantastic and had some interesting messages behind it. That bit with the island and the meerkats was a little jarring and odd but I had very few bad things to say about this.

  2. I have a chance to see this, but I think I’ll pass in favor of Silver Linings Playbook. Looks visually stunning, but won’t see it in the theater. Will put it on my list, though.

    Cool bottom line – love those.

    • Haha thanks!

      I haven’t seen Silver Linings Playbook, but if I know anything about it, you should see Life of Pi in theaters, and wait for that one to come to DVD. Life of Pi has visuals that just won’t look great on a TV screen.

  3. “Lincoln is Daniel Day-Lewis” is not like comparing Lincoln to anything. It’s simply a compliment to Mr. Day-Lewis acting talent. You make it sound like 3 stars is a bad review. It’s still a recommendation. It’s not like I trashed “Kramer vs. Kramer” or something. 😉

    • I meant it is (or it sounds) like stating that Day-Lewis is one of minimal standouts in *Lincoln*, as was Meryl Streep in *The Iron Lady*. Your opinion, anyhow…and I’ve trashed too many more “classics” than *Kramer vs. Kramer* haha.

  4. I fear a predictable Lincoln sweep of virtually every award it’s up for (Not so fast Sally Field). I only hope Life of Pi might win some of the technical awards in the same way that Hugo did last year: Cinematography, Score, Visual effects perhps? If this did by some freak of nature actually win Best Picture, I would not be unhappy about that. 🙂

    • I’ve read your Lincoln review at least twice, and I still can’t quite fathom why you gave it three stars. I know one line of the review by heart, and it basically summarizes the entire thing: “*Lincoln* is Daniel Day-Lewis.” That’s like subtly comparing it to something as shallow as *The Iron Lady*, which, my gosh, it isn’t!

      I wouldn’t be surprised if *Life of Pi* was 2012’s *Hugo*, actually. Both were “unfilmable” yet marvelously rendered. As for Best Picture, a PG-rated film hasn’t won since 1989 (*Driving Miss Daisy*); if you want to go further, a PG-rated film is even less likely to win both Best Picture and Best Director, as this has not been achieved since Sydney Pollack’s *Out of Africa* in 1985. I mean not to draw a connection between the MPAA ratings and the Academy, so much as to conclude that the chances are slim. But, in a way, hopeful.

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