Life Of Pi * * * * *
Director: Ang Lee.
Screenplay: David Magee.
Starring: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Ayush Tandon, Guatam Belur, Adil Hussain, Tabu, Rafe Spall, Gerard Depardieu.
The amount of times that director Ang Lee has delivered fresh material is testament to his bravery and skill as a filmmaker. He pushed genre conventions with Annie Proulx’s “Brokeback Mountain“, delved into the prose of Jane Austin with “Sense and Sensibility“, as well as, a meticulous take on Rick Moody’s “The Ice Storm” – and these are only his adaptations. He has challenged numerous genre’s from martial-arts (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon“) through comic-book (“Hulk“) to war and romance (“Lust, Caution“), among others. This time, Lee attempts an adaptation of Yann Martel’s ‘unfilmable’, bestselling novel and it’s another remarkable achievement.
On a huge freighter, leaving Pondicherry, India for Canada, a zoo keeping family are going to sell their animals and start a new life. Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma) is the zoo keeper’s son and after the ship is sunk in a storm, he finds himself adrift on the Pacific Ocean in a lifeboat. He’s not alone, though. He shares the boat with a Zebra, a Hyaena, an Orang-utan and “Richard Parker” – a 450-pound Bengal Tiger. Somehow, he must find a way to survive.
As the film opens we are given glimpses of wild animals roaming around their habitat. Although subtly handled, it works an absolute treat in establishing it’s use of 3D. I’m not a fan of this new viewing gimmick we’ve had thrust upon us but in the hands of Lee it is used to it’s best and fullest potential. Visually it’s astounding (and it only gets better as the film progresses) and along with Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo“, it’s the best use of 3D I’ve seen yet. After this brief introduction, Lee gets down to the story. He builds slowly; introducing his protagonist’s curiosity of life and religious beliefs and does so with a lightness of touch and humour that makes him instantly endearing. Cleverly, Yann Martel’s story makes a point of incorporating many religions. Our protagonist doesn’t follow one particular belief but encompasses many, which is very important for the film to work on it’s spiritual level and not ostracise the audience. It’s these very beliefs that are questioned when the story of survival takes place and it’s here that Lee pulls an absolute mastery in his use of CGI. He skilfully combines the beauty and ferocity of our natural world and even though his palette is vast, he focuses it, mainly, in limited space.
When getting down to the bare bones, this a story about life, spirituality and metaphysics but ultimately, it’s a story about storytelling itself and the infinite possibilities that lie therein. It manages that rare balance of being both literal and symbolic and Lee and screenwriter David Magee’s biggest achievement is immersing the audience into this odyssey and allowing a freedom of choice in how it can be perceived.
Ang Lee has always been a director that has commanded respect but he has surpassed himself here. This is one of the most challenging book-to-screen adaptations ever made and it’s also one of the best.
Wondrous and awe inspiring storytelling is a rarity these days but this film certainly achieves that. Not that I ever really lost it but it has a vibrancy and depth that reaffirms my belief in the magic of cinema. Quite simply, it’s a film that’s bold and breathtakingly, beautiful.