The Mesmerizing ‘Life of Pi’
Certain films ask their audience to suspend
In “Life of Pi,” director Ang Lee (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) leaves that choice to the viewers.
Do we take its fantastic, spiritual story at face value, which makes for a much more rewarding experience, or do we approach it cynically?
Based on the celebrated novel of the same name by Yann Martel, “Life of Pi” asks this question of its viewers, just as the book does of its readers, and the results are effectively mesmerizing.
Put simply, it’s a beautiful film on multiple levels – stunning in its dazzling, well-shot visuals and engrossing in its multilayered narrative, arguably one of 2012’s best.
“Life of Pi” tells a tall (or is it?) tale of its titular character’s survival at sea. Pi Patel (newcomer Suraj Sharma) is the teenage son of a zookeeper (Adil Hussain, “For Real”) in Pondicherry, India.
Life is good for Pi. He’s adopted multiple religions throughout his youth, viewing the world from a broader perspective than most of his peers’, even when it comes to interacting with the zoo’s inhabitants.
But the animals are to be sold and shipped to Canada, with Pi and family escorting them on the long sea voyage to Montreal.
When a violent storm strikes, catastrophe comes with it, sinking the ship and leaving Pi stranded on a lifeboat with a wounded zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and Richard Parker, a Bengal tiger named such after a clerical mix-up.
Needless to say, one thing leads to another, until only Pi and Richard Parker are left adrift – at constant odds with each other for survival. However, both eventually learn that they need each other to survive, developing an unlikely connection throughout their 227-day ordeal.
Pi survives to tell the tale, which isn’t much of a spoiler, since his older self (Irrfan Khan, “The Amazing Spider-Man”) is narrating from the get-go. His survival is the bottom line, as it were, but it’s how he got there that’s drawn into question. Are we to accept his extraordinary and spiritual tale, or is there a more “believable” explanation?
In posing this question, Lee emphasizes the importance of belief and how it can shape our outlook on life and how we live it. Earlier in the film, Pi and his father argue about whether or not animals have souls, with Pi believing it’s evident by gazing into their eyes. His father vehemently disagrees, especially for the sake of his children’s safety, arguing that it’s not a soul Pi sees, but rather his own emotion reflected back.
Therein lies the film’s central theme – whether to play it safe and view the world through a logical lens or to take a leap of faith and view it as a magical place. There’s no wrong answer. For the film’s sake, however, Lee concentrates on the latter, and the results are nothing short of spectacular.
Lee has a flair for visuals, especially in making them one with the story, but it’s never been so seamless and spellbinding as in “Pi.” It’s also one of those rarities in which a 3-D presentation serves to benefit – rather than detract from – the narrative. After all, who doesn’t enjoy a 3-D allegory?
“Life of Pi,” rated PG for emotional thematic content throughout, and some scary action sequences and peril, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.