October 30, 2014

Film Review: Life of Pi

 

PHOTO COURTESY OF 2OTH CENTURY FOX

Film Review: Life of Pi

Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma) and a fierce Bengal tiger named Richard Parker must rely on each other to survive an epic journey.

“Life of Pi” goes on a spiritual journey.

Despite the myriad visual and special effects, director Ang Lee’s soulful Life of Pi shines through the technical wizardry while leaving the viewer (thankfully) with more questions than answers.

Adapted from the 2001 novel of the name, Pi explores the life of Piscine “Pi” Patel and his infatuation with religions at an early age. His faith is put to the test when the family leaves India for a better life and are subsequently shipwrecked, leaving Pi as the only survivor. Well, him and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

After surviving 227 days at sea, Patel is left with a clear definition of what god is and a story almost too good to be true.

It should be noted that much of the material is understandably painted with large brushstrokes. There is a bigger emphasis on the film relying on previous source materials — Noah’s ark, the story of Job and Moacyr Scliar’s 1981 novella Max and the Cats — to carry the film’s concept than original thought.

While that would normally be cause for lambasting, It’s more exception than rule considering that Pi is more about immersion, symbolism and the art of storytelling.

For a film that is so heavily spiritually oriented, yet universally appealing, it is a near impossible task. Lee’s decision to eschew knotty storytelling for the gigantic grand gestures fits the tone of the film beautifully.

Easily ranking among Lee’s best work, Pi is the worthy offspring of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain. While the two films are polar opposites, you can see the artistic growth in the director by the effortless blending of the two in his third and latest release.

And that’s really the trick. To be inundated with concepts of faith, healing, absolution and deconstruction of spirit while watching utter 3D phantasmagoria is a brilliant sleight of hand. Mary Poppins and her spoonful of sugar have nothing on Ang Lee.

Acting newcomer Suraj Sharma and Irrfan Khan work well in tandem as the young and old Pi. Sharma, a 17-year-old student, isn’t so much acting as reacting, which is great. You don’t need to know what panic looks like as much as how to react to what is causing the panic. That’s what made Tom Hanks’ performance in Cast Away so visceral and Sharma does it here. Playing against Sharma, Khan’s soothing and subdued effort is hypnotic adding an effective counterbalance.

The great thing about Life of Pi is that the film is heavy without being crushed under its own weight. Make time to see it. It’s worth the price of admission.