Not having read the book Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, I was skeptical about taking the “theatre leap” to watch a film based on such a universally praised novel. Facebook echoes of pleased viewers in India and the talent-studded cast of Irrfan Khan, Tabu, Gérard Dépardieu and Adil Hussain however ended nudging me towards watching the tigersome adventure.
I can joyfully say I was not disappointed. Apart from a few lengthy areas, the story had my companion and me hoping, feeling, smiling or speechless for the protagonist. And just when you think all has been said and done in the story, Pi’s ark provokes more thoughts and feelings than you expected.
It all starts with a parable narrated by mature Pi to a Western writer in search of a good story to write a novel. Pi, which is a nickname for the quirky name Piscine Molitor (the boy was named after a high end public swimming pool in Paris), leaves India on a ship with his family looking for a better destiny. He travels not only with his mother, father and brother but with an entire menagerie of exotic animals, which his father, a former zoo owner, hopes to sell in America. One night, the ship they have boarded faces a violent storm that leaves Pi alone, stranded on a boat, in the middle of the sea together with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a beautiful Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. As the story unfolds, Pi’s relationship with the tiger will develop from fearful and violent into that of understanding, respect, protection and wise detachment.
Even though some youngsters commented after the movie that they could see the animals in the film were not real but computer generated, I believe the animation effects were top end, whether they were used to create animals or the various surreal skies and waters necessary to create the magical atmosphere that would match Pi’s miracle story.
Irrfan Khan, Tabu and Adil Hussain all frame Ang Lee’s movie beautifully, but it is Suraj Sharma who appears stunningly talented at several points throughout the film. Acting well opposite other actors is already quite a craft, but acting convincingly opposite thin air is even more commendable. This was something most viewers discussed and expressed admiration towards as we all came out of the theatre.
Though I do wish the film had clued me into knowing that the story it was telling from the beginning was a parable, we had a good time and I can say that a sure thing the film has done, is push me towards buying the book to go into more depth. A beautiful parable of self-discovery deserves more time and reflection than what a movie, even an excellent one, might be able to encompass. I bow to Ang Lee for making a movie that honors the story it is telling and pushes one to look further into the mysteries of the soul.
Visit the Life of Pi official website
LIFE OF PI
Director: Ang Lee
Writers: David Magee, Yann Martel
Production: Ang Lee, David Lee
Cast: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Tabu, Adil Hussain, Gérard Dépardieu
Visual effects: Rhythm & Hues Studios