Life of Pi (2012)
Starring Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Rafe Spall and Gerard Depardieu
Directed by Ang Lee
The opening credits already worried me, showing me every exotic animal with names I’ve already forgotten in the slowest pace possible. Is this the beat that Life of Pi will be flowing to?
This adaptation of novel of the same name show these animals within a zoo that’s managed by the father of the young Piscine Molitor or ‘Pi’ Patel (Sharma), the latter being an Indian boy growing up in Pondicherry, a land transforming from French colonization into joining independent India.
The adult version of Pi (Khan) lives in Montreal, his voyage between the two countries – or three, for technical purposes – is so compelling that an off-screen character named Mamaji recommended him to a man (Spall) who’s stuck on what he’s going to write. Pi is a religious professor, the writer is a North American brand of young secular atheist. Both of them aren’t smug about their intellectual backgrounds. But part of Mamaji’s recommendation of Pi is that his story will convince the writer that God exists but again, not in a smug way. I can feel some eyes rolling at such a premise.
I loved the book, its simple language evoking the energy of a boy’s growth and his lonely and one in a trillion journey that puts him in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in the same lifeboat as a terrifying tiger named Richard Parker. Or at least, that’s what I remember from the novel.
It’s the opposite of the film’s approach. Again, the pacing in the first scenes, as well as its mixture of Indian and French music softening the impact of the moments when Pi takes a stand on his (religious) identity. It almost damages my experience of the entire film. Those scenes should have amped us up to the movie’s climax, its chaos building up and complementing the ocean’s disturbing quietness. The scenes in India as also have this digital, amateurish texture capturing the shallowest characters in Ang Lee’s directing career.
His time in the ocean, then, isn’t stark but a magical although scary time. Allow me to compare this another director’s work, James Cameron, who has championed the film. I’ll also say that the shipwreck scenes, when the camera occasionally follows Pi in and out of ships and lifeboats, are more audacious than its predecessor. And since Pi, Richard Parker and the rest of us are out in the ocean, we get to see every type of real marine life that evokes the fictional life forms in Avatar. I never pegged Lee as a visual director but his rural/exurban landscapes should have given me that hint, and the aesthetics are what I can give this movie its credit. It’s worth the 3D medium although it’s not necessarily worth its price.
But does watching someone with God’s creatures, or watching him in a Job-like situation make anyone feel closer to God? Not necessarily (Full disclosure: you probably all know that I’m gay but I’m also a Catholic, one of the religions that Pi adheres to). The movie dazzles and thrills but its main goal should come from a text not just about wonderment but endurance and perseverance. I never really felt those here, and knowing the movie’s ending, as well as other factors in the movie’s storytelling might have spoiled that for me. The ending also doesn’t offer any answers, and this is the kind of movie that should have done that.
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