Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Life of Pi (Review)

Director: Ang Lee

Company: Rhythm and Hues, Fox 2000 Pictures

Year: 2012

Country: USA

A story about a boy....and his tiger.

One of the most widely talked about films last year was Ang Lee's Life of Pi, winning four Academy Awards and being nominated for seven others. Based off the award winning novel of the same name by Yann Martel, Pi is about how a young man manages to survive a shipwreck and finds companionship in the most unexpected of all places. Pi Patel is a very inquisitive and intelligent person. Since a young age, his curiosity and acceptance of others led him to follow three religions at once (Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam) much to the surprise of his family. Pi's way of thinking and behavior is accepted by his mother, but his more conservative father is not so open to Pi's beliefs and sees his son as irrational. When Pi is 16, his father decides to move from India to Canada in order to earn more money and sell most of their zoo animals. Unfortunately, the Japanese cargo ship Pi and his family is on sinks during a terrible storm. Pi, an injured zebra, a female orangutan, a spotted hyena, and Ricard Parker (a tiger) are the only survivors. Now Pi must find a way to survive alone, in the middle of the ocean, and also keep the tiger fed in order to avoid being eaten.

This was so brilliant I had to reblog it. Credit goes to Rick Slusher. 

One of the best aspects about this film, aside from its stunning visuals, is the fact that it can pull off telling such a heartfelt and fantastical story with a very limited cast. The vast majority of the film takes place on a small boat in the ocean with Pi, portrayed by actor Suraj Sharma, and Richard Parker. If the film was not directed so skillfully, this situation could quickly become boring for the audience. But Life of Pi manages to keep its viewers interested by showing Pi's inner dilemmas and flashbacks as he contemplates how to survive and maintain his sanity. The way Pi must painstakingly must teach himself to fish, collect water, and tame Richard Parker will surely make many people feel fortunate for their own comparatively easy lives. Interestingly enough, Pi discovers that taking of Richard Parker has given him the motivation to stay alive. This is not just because Pi is fearful for his own life, but truly cares for the tiger. At one point, Richard Parker even falls off the boat and is unable to climb all the way back up and is left hanging helplessly on its side. Pi could have left Richard there, but instead lets Richard live because he sees the tiger as his only friend left in the world. 

If situations become tense, sometimes it is necessary to take risks.

Another interesting aspect of Life of Pi is that audience is left to interoperate wether or not Pi's fantastic journey actually happened the way he said it played out. After Pi reaches land in Mexico, ending his 227 day journey, he is questioned by two Japanese insurance agents of the sunken freighter. They find his tale to be unbelievable and ask him for the 'real' version. Unable to convince the two men, Pi tells them another version. In this story, he shared the boat with his mother (the orangutan), a Buddhist with a broken leg (the zebra), and a mean-spirtied cook (the hyena). The cook kills the Buddhist for food and kills Pi's mother in a fight. Pi later returns to the boat and kills the cook. Thus, Pi is Richard Parker himself in the story. The audience is left deciding which version of the story they believe. The novelist who interviews Pi believes in the story with the tiger, despite its strangeness. It is possible that Pi may have created the story with the tiger as a means of coping with his difficult situation or hallucinated certain events (such as the carnivorous island inhabited by meerkats). However, the tiger story could just as well have happened. Either way, Pi survived his life changing journey through faith and his determination and will to live.

Speaking of the movie's special effects, one of the most remarkable things about the filming of Life of Pi is that all of the ocean scenes were shot in a giant wave tank built from an abandoned airport. (In fact, it is the world's largest self-generating wave pool, carrying up to 1.7 million gallons!) The creation of Richard Parker and the film's other visual effects were provided by Rhythm and Hues, which is sadly facing bankruptcy. R&H was contacted for providing the special effects due to animating Aslan the lion in The Chronicles of Narnia (2005). Below is a short clip showing how Richard was brought to life.

Pi has some of the most gorgeous CGI visuals ever created. 

If you have already not seen this film, do yourself a favor and rent it. Life of Pi is one of the most unique and enjoyable of movies to come out recently. Not only is it a visual feast, but it has a memorable story which may seem simple at first, but can be analyzed from different perspectives. Life of Pi is sure to please fans of the novel and many critics alike.

Fun Fact: Richard Parker was named after several real life shipwreck victims.

Rating: 4.5/5