Life of Pi

Life of Pi

How do you make a film out a book deemed unfilmable? Make it even more fantastical than the actual book. Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s Man Booker prize winning novel LIFE OF PI finally reaches cinemas and it is as spiritual, riveting and faith affirming as the source but with a visual edge that only the best of cinema can offer.

Pi is actually Piscine Molitor Patel, played as an adult by Irrfan Khan and during the film’s seminal portion set at the high seas by Suraj Sharma. Pi’s story, as related to a person who comes knocking at his door searching for a tale, is incredible. He starts from his childhood, in Pondicherry where he has a tryst with numerous religions, from Hinduism to Christianity to Islam. A person of deep faith in all things Godly his life is set for an upheaval when his family decides to uproot and move to Canada, closing down their zoo and taking all their animals with them to sell in North American. On route, a ferocious storm hits their cargo ship and everyone on board drowns, except for Pi, adrift on a lifeboat with an Orangutan, an injured Zebra, a vicious Hyena and most extraordinarily, a Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker. The film really finds its groove during this portion, when in a sort of fantasy CAST AWAY setting, Pi must take control of things, including the hungry tiger, in order to survive. Lee uses the canvas that this setting offers to amaze us with prodigious imagery and the 3D portions of this section should convince even the most ardent critic of the medium of its potential.

All the talk about how the 3D rendering in this film is one of the best seen so far is largely hyperbolic however. Films that employ the technology can be firmly divided into those that work and those that don’t and PI, along with films such as HUGO and AVATAR, sits firmly in the former list. It isn’t all about the visual splendour either. Lee, ever the storyteller with a philosopher’s heart, doesn’t let the employment of such dense effects work dumb down his story. He brings the same sense of depth here that he tried (and failed) to use in his adaptation of HULK, a comic book movie that felt ponderous and indulgent. PI feels spirited, cut from the same cloth as many of his previous films but at the same time more immersed in the tale and what is represents—seemingly transcendent, and like the book, never running out of genuine surprises.

His cast ably supports him. Sharma is fine for the most part, though his role requires him to be more loud and hysterical than any of the others even though he occupies the screen during the near silent, survival at sea moments, clearly the highlight of the film. In the battle of wills, he takes control of the situation (and the lifeboat) using a safety whistle, knowledge gained about sea sickness and peeing to mark his territory thus forming a truly symbiotic relationship with Richard Parker. Despite this, it is really Irrfan Khan who surprises as the adult Pi, wiser and imbued with a poet’s depth in his conversations; his dialogues having all the hallmarks of a divine, graceful storyteller. Of course, the real storyteller here is Lee, who works cinema magic in this fusion of heady themes and the impressive tapestry of colours. LIFE OF PI aims for the heart, but in the process reaches for the soul.

Rating: ★★★★½


About Faizan Rashid

A veteran Dubai based film critic, Faizan has been reviewing movies for nearly a decade. His work has been published in local newspapers such as 7days and on prestigious online websites such as MSN Arabia and