Review: Life of Pi


Life of Pi

Sometimes the last 10 minutes can change your opinion of the entire movie. This happened to me with Life of Pi. Near the end of the film, another perspective is given on the story that's been unspooling onscreen, a perspective that reveals an underlying theme or message, which irritated me enough to cast a shadow on the rest of the movie.

Despite the revelation in the third act, Life of Pi is a gorgeous movie, successfully recounting a tale that could have easily veered into the ridiculous. Director Ang Lee has beautifully imagined this adaptation of the bestselling novel by Yann Martel, which I haven't read. And yet, while I was never bored, I never felt especially engaged in the story.

The title character, Pi, is a grown man (Irrfan Khan) recounting the main story in flashbacks. The story he tells is primarily about himself as a teenager (Suraj Sharma), when his family undertakes a trip from India to Canada to start a new life in a new country. A storm disrupts their sea travel and Pi finds himself on a lifeboat with a number of animals from his father's zoo, including a ferocious Bengal tiger.

The plot takes a little too long to get underway, with a lot of exposition about Pi's childhood -- how he got his nickname, how he first encountered the tiger in his father's zoo, his first romance, his feelings about religion, and so forth. A lot of this information factors in to his later adventures, but it dims the importance of the center story. On the other hand, if you are fonder of the third-act revelation than I am, and see the whole arc as a spiritual journey, the exposition makes more sense.

There is nothing about Life of Pi that is not high quality, from the performances to the cinematography to the score. I do think the 3D is unnecessary and in one scene, pulled me out of the film with inappropriate laughter. The experience will be just as sumptuous in two dimensions. But for me, the movie's themes and messages felt a little stale, and the flashback structure eliminated a certain amount of suspense. I simply couldn't connect with the characters and their situations. And I believe this is why I pulled back from the discoveries at the end of the film, and spent the last ten minutes trying not to sigh audibly.

One further note on Life of Pi: I've received press releases calling this an "all-audience" movie, which I assume means you can take your grandparents or your kids and everyone will enjoy it on some level. If you are thinking about taking children to the movie, bear in mind that there are violent and intense scenes involving animals attacking one another, a number of deaths of characters we've met and liked, and a genuinely scary scene involving the storm and the ship. Also, that third-act revelation I mentioned involves difficult, adult concepts that will probably warrant a post-movie discussion (which could be a good thing). On the other hand, there's no sex or nudity, and for many parents (and Hollywood), that makes it perfect for kids.

Missing the Point? [SPOILERS]

Hello World

Perhaps I have seen too much into the book and the movie. I have searched for those who saw what I saw in this movie. The setup is clear. This is a naive boy who is finding his way through life. He dabbles in multiple religions as he tries to understand the meaning of his life. Pi is sensitive and is vegetarian by choice ... not wanting to harm the animals.

The story ends with the consumer trying to understand the truth: Was this boy on a life boat with people or animals? If people, then the chef (hyena) killed (and ate?) the kind Japanese fisherman (zebra). If people, then the chef killed (and ate?) his mother (orangutan). Finally, if people, then the boy as Richard Parker (tiger) killed (and ate?) the chef!

The ensuing battle of wills between the boy and Richard Parker (tiger - alter ego) is one where the boy has to accept what he has done and become. He has killed (and cannibalized) when as a young man, he could not ever think of hurting an animal or a human.

Tantalizing and exciting, either story has it potential for triumph or failure that engages the reader/viewer. It is the fact of having two stories, one plausible and one less plausible that brings the reader/viewer to the ultimate question that relates to the belief in God. Are you willing to believe the less plausible account of a series of events (stories of God) or the more plausible account of a series of events (science - mentioned earlier by the boy's father)? Do you believe in God as you believe in the animal story?

The Meaning of Pi [SPOILERS]

As a boy, Pi sought to "know" God by believing in all the stories about God (even many "gods" as with the Hindu religion, or God-in-three-persons Christianity) as presenting the many faces of, and paths to, God offered up by various religious and denominations. Pi enjoyed the stories; he also adopted various physical expressions or manifestations of worship, and saw no conflict in holding on to all at the same time. First witnessing cannibalism aboard the lifeboat, he himself finally had to adopt cannibalism in order to survive. And so, the stories of the various animals were ways for him to "accept" behavior of types that he could not accept otherwise. This was illustrated by his feeding the tiger (himself) not only fish but the flesh of animals, after he (the tiger) had finished eating the flesh of Man. As to the island, this figment was an eventual dawning recognition that he was losing touch with "reality" and that the acid of the island-night would destroy his mind were he to continue to dwell simply in the stories. He eventually had to let the tiger walk away --without a backward glance-- so that he could deal with the sorrow and horror of what was his own reality. As to God and believing in God, we can only surmise that Pi chose to continue to love the stories, that "science" alone could not prove the existence of God, and that he accepted himself and found human love and peace in his nuclear family.