Monday, August 12, 2013

Life of Pi

Directed by Ang Lee.
2012. Rated PG-13, 127 minutes.
Suraj Sharma
Irrfan Khan
Ayush Tandon
Gautam Belur
Rafe Spall
Adil Hussain
Gérard Depardieu
James Saito

Pi, played by Irrfan Khan as an adult, has a story that will make you believe in God. At least, that’s what the (unnamed) writer (Spall) has been told. He’s sought out Pi to hear this tale for himself. It details the events of Pi’s survival of a shipwreck all alone on a lifeboat. Well, he’s all alone except for a zebra, a hyena, and most dangerously, a none too friendly tiger name Richard Parker.

The shipwreck happens when Pi is fifteen years old, then played by Suraj Sharma. Before this we get his life story up to that point. It’s a wonderful setup for what’s to follow. Relationships between he and his family, particularly his father, are established. Enveloped within this framework is the boy’s relationship with the tiger. There is both humor and pathos at work here, and very effectively at that. We feel we really know this young man and understand the thirst of his spirit.

When we get to Pi adrift on the ocean trying to figure out how to survive both the elements and his company, Sharma takes over the movie. If you’re going to be the only person on the screen for long stretches of time, you’d better be a compelling personality. He is indeed that. He’s also aided by Richard Parker. The dynamics of their circumstances is tremendously watchable and maintains a certain charm throughout.

Also charming are the visuals. Richard Parker is certainly included as he is mostly cgi. He, and the rest of what we see is splendid. There is never a moment when we doubt that our hero is face to face with this magnificent beast. The danger he represents is certainly palpable. This helps the movie turn a difficult trick. Despite our knowledge that the older version of the young man we’re watching is narrating, we still feel that his life is at risk. At least, it’s at risk enough to keep us engaged. The rest of the film is wonderful looking, as well. The storm scenes are especially spectacular as is the island scene, with ridiculously lush greens and meerkats as far as the eye can see.

Visuals alone do not make a great movie, Zack Snyder. They work best when in support of an intriguing story. Things work this way in Life of Pi. We’re often drawn to the edge of our seat. Then, at the end, our brain gets challenged a bit. Is what we've seen the truth or just a colorful metaphor? Does it really matter which? What proof does it offer of God’s existence? We can have fun with all of those questions after we've had fun watching Pi navigate difficult waters.

Including this one, I've only seen five of the twelve full-length features directed by Ang Lee. Until now, I’ve only liked one, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but I contend that it’s overrated. Even more overrated is Brokeback Mountain. It won Best Picture, but I don’t even think it was the best LGBT picture that year. Transamerica was a far superior movie and Mysterious Skin was ten times better than them both. Taking Woodstock was a ball of “meh” and don’t even get me started on that giant sleeping pill Hulk. If you shared my point of view, you’d understand why I wasn't really buying into the hype surrounding Life of Pi. However, I’ll admit that Mr. Lee has crafted a winner with this one.

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