Life of Pi (2012) Film Review, a movie directed by Ang Lee and starring Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Gautam Belur, Adil Hussain, Tabu, Rafe Spall, Gérard Depardieu, James Saito, Jun Naito, Richard Parker, and Andrea Di Stefano.
They say never work with children or animals. But in Ang Lee’s latest project, he decided to dismiss this advice and combine working, very closely, with the two. And what could have been a cinematic disaster has turned out to be the exact opposite as Lee is blessed with several virtues – very good actors, endless imagination and an impressive use of CGI.
Really this adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel should be impossible to film, with close-ups of countless animals, storms and miracles, yet somehow, even with a 17-year-old lead actor (Suraj Sharma), he manages to pull it off. In fact, he’s created a beautiful epic which is vibrant and colourful.
How Lee Does It
Despite his awkward age, Sharma radiates a happy, content strength and energy and maintains authority throughout. The other star of the show, the Bengal tiger, really raises the bar for Lee’s fellow CGI filmmakers in movies yet to be made. The creature’s every movement is solid and detailed and the pinnacle of the story is the tale of the boy and the beast and the fragile survival of being stranded in a lifeboat following a terrifying and dramatic storm.
The adventure begins and the stories of survival and starvation becomes a believable and touching spiritual journey of Pi, and the viewer is invited to explore religion and life’s meaning along with the boy on the screen. He’s out in the wilderness, with only a tiger and other shipmates which include a hyena, zebra and orang-utan for company. It creates a sense of lonliness and terror and the necessary resilience which we are faced with throughout life, the challenges we face to move forward and adapt and the unlikely connections we make to enrich our lives.
The Groundbreaking Use of CGI
However, despite telling a wondrous and thought-provoking tale, this film really is more of a glorious success of the screen rather than the soul. As well as the very real and statuesque tiger, Richard Parker, a visual treat is offered in the way of magic and mystical scenes. For example, when the ocean is littered with luminous jellyfish or when a whale whirls around the boat, or fish fly through the sky. It is simply splendid and what we pay good money to go to the cinema for – a magnificent feast for the senses. When this idea was first brought to the table among filmmakers, the original plan was to use a real tiger in an attempt at keeping this film authentic and of the greatest possible quality. But logistics and budget had to play a part if the picture was going to get off the ground, and the overall look of the film does not suffer as a result of the ultimate decision by the big bosses.
The Beauty of Portraying Young
Lee sticks to the recurring theme found in his previous work: families being disrupted and the challenges of young people in a moralistic and physical way (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Sense and Sensibility; Brokeback Mountain). In many blockbusters these days we see children, teens and young adults facing challenges such as coping with their misunderstanding parents, falling in love with vampires or passing their driving tests and surviving high school. However, Lee delves deeper in this latest movie. He swaps cars and roads for a boat and the ocean and proves that young people’s impressionable spirits can be about so much more than just first love or being popular. He turns the living hurdles of parents, boyfriends, girlfriends and school bullies into menacing and hungry wild animals. This tells the story of the effect on a young man when his family and happy existence is uprooted and how it leads on to affect the rest of his life.
A Questionable Ending
A confusing or simply terrible ending to a great film can be the death of it, and this film’s conclusion is skating on thin ice. As a viewer we don’t want to be given an alternative, darker and dismal, ending and we certainly don’t want to be the ones who decides which one is real. However, it is poignant and poetic and Lee ensures that, thankfully, all is not lost. Despite the question that hangs in the air on the validity of Pi’s story, the masterpiece continues until the credits roll.