Film review: Life of Pi (2012)
Director: Ang Lee
Cast: Suraj Sharma (Teen Pi), Irrfan Khan (Adult Pi), Gautam Belur (Boy Pi), Rafe Spall (writer)
The arrival of 3D film-making has rarely rendered as satisfying a result as in Life of Pi, the very entertaining and visually exceptional film by Academy-Award winner Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain & Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon)
Though it is initially portrayed as a spiritual journey of sorts, Life of Pi is an excellent story of survival that is perhaps too interested in the details of the ordeal to fulfill its ambitious promise.
Our protagonist, curiously named Pi (short for Piscine Molitor), is portrayed at three different stages of his life. The middle aged man is portrayed with poise and charm by Irrfan Khan, a gifted Indian-born actor who conveys more emotion and familiarity in a sentence than most actors do in an entire film. The story begins with him, sharing his tale of survival with a novelist seeking for inspiration.
As a boy, he is shown as a curious mind who is naturally drawn to the spiritual. His peculiar interest in finding God draws him to religion, almost comically so as he jumps from Christianity to Islam with innocence and spontaneity. His personal quest for God puts him at odds with his father, a practical businessman who is a man of science and facts. When a business opportunity presents itself, Pi’s father decides to run a zoo in a small city in India, giving Pi and the rest of the family a rather unique opportunity to grow up surrounded by wild animals.
As a teenager, Pi is portrayed with energy and conviction by Suraj Sharma. The performance is solid enough to not hurt the film but, as far as characters go, his contribution is definitely overshadowed by a Bengal Tiger, an astounding CGI creation named Richard Parker, with whom he shares most of the film’s running time trapped in a small boat after the transatlantic ship that was taking him and his family to Canada sinks in the midst of a storm.
The visual excellence of Life of Pi is both at a technical level and in terms of composition, designed with care and artistry by Ang Lee and a team of experts that managed to create a marvelous adventure that borders on the sublime. There’s so much attention in every shot, often driven by an interest in the poetic, using mesmerizing flourishes of colors that engulf the screen and captivate our senses.
It is clear from early on that Life of Pi is not for everyone. After all, it declares itself as a transformational film, one that may “make you believe in God”. To the strict non-believers, there might be a few scenes worthy of an eye-roll or even an unintentional chuckle. However, if we are willing to forgive its ambitious, some might say pretentious non-accomplished goal, then Life of Pi will become every bit as absorbing, emotional and magical as it was intended to be.
Rating: 4 / 5 (great)
♦ Candidate to the Blog of Big Ideas’ Top 250 Films Ever ♦
Next in the Blog of Big Ideas:
- Some thoughts on the development of the supertall skyscraper
- Best Moments in Film History (part 7): the girl recognizes the tramp
- A review of the original and entertaining Looper
- Alfred Hitchcock Special (part 1): North by Northwest