Life of Pi

life of piFirst of all; Life of Pi has very little appeal for movie goers unfamiliar with Yann Martel’s novel. They will have to glean from whatever information is available before deciding whether to watch it in the cinema or buy on DVD.

Second; movie poster is a “big heads in the sky over tiny people on the sea” type, it doesn’t stand out among the ones with fancier designs.

Third; it casts two virtual unknowns—fierce looking Bengal feline and plain looking Indian boy (newcomer, Suraj Sharma). Which means there will be no attractive Hollywood celebs to ogle at and no sex scenes to anticipate.

Fourth; the movie tagline is cliché—”The Journey of a Lifetime.” It is so generic that it can easily apply to any movie off the top of my head: Castaway, Chronicles of Narnia, Titanic, Alexander, Pathfinder…

Lastly; the movie poster underplays two things that will most certainly sell the film, Ang Lee and 3D.

But watch it anyway… because Life of Pi is unlike any film Ang Lee (Taking Woodstock, Brokeback Mountain) has ever made, yet it is the most profoundly moving piece of cinema in his twenty years as a filmmaker. From the beginning; lush evergreen and a mellow giraffe fade in before enchanting melody drifts across the airwaves—it instantly captivates, all the way until the very last frame…

I would have liked to describe Life of Pi as a genteel; romantic cousin of Slumdog Millionaire but that would be off base. Both exude different energies. One is extroverted and dynamic, while the other is intuitive and intensely dramatic.

Adapted from Martel’s 2001 novel, this film is a 3D adventure fantasy drama based on adapted screenplay by David Magee (Finding Neverland). In broad terms, it tells the story of a 16 year old boy named (after a swimming pool in Paris) Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel; and his journey as a shipwreck survivor, adrift on Marianas Trench — deepest part of the world’s ocean.

Story is told from one narrative viewpoint—older, middle-aged Piscine in a flashback recounting his 227 days ordeal stranded on the Pacific Ocean. Life before the journey sets the stage: Pi lives with his parents (they run a private zoo) and elder brother, Ravi. After an unforeseen land dispute, the family boards a Japanese ship in an attempt to sell their zoo animals around the world before settling as migrants in Canada. But a storm hits and passes; with his family gone, Pi finds himself stranded with a lifeboat and a few animals. Hours turn into days… as he contemplates the difficult situation, thematic focus of this film unfolds. Separation, survival, self-discovery, the will to live, hunger and thirst, faith and belief… all culminate in one of the most impeccably crafted bildungsroman I have ever seen.

No one in recent years has improvised upon French Impressionism so spectacularly as cinematographer Claudio Miranda (Tron: Legacy, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) did in this film. We see a cloud filled sky blazing with azure before young, curious Pi plunges into the pool… but imageries are never indulged for its own sake. Frame after frame; photography continues to fascinate by embodying important symbolic ideas and emotions of the story. Visual poetry in this film is mesmerizing, and I’ll be damned if Miranda fails to bag an Oscar for it.

There is a scene in the final act that brought me to uncontrollable, snot dribbling tears. When Richard Parker stopped in his tracks at the edge of the jungle, right before he enters it. The fact that he has no human characteristics makes it poignant; the emotional impact came very suddenly, I wasn’t at all prepared for it.

★★★★★

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