FILMS

Life of Pi: film review

A boy, a boat and a Bengal tiger

By Roger Childs

I was scared that his last meal would be a skinny, vegetarian Indian boy.

A philosophical Pi contemplates a worst case scenario of his future while sharing a lifeboat with a tiger.

A great novel becomes an excellent film

If you have read Life of Pi, the Man Booker Prize winning novel by Canadian Yann Martel, the film is a must see. If you haven’t read it, you’ll want to after viewing the film.

Taiwanese Director, Ang Lee, has won many awards in his career because of his skillful and realistic filmmaking in bringing challenging and varied stories to the screen.

His best films include

  • The Wedding Banquet: a food film with a homosexual theme
  • Sense and Sensibility: classic Jane Austen
  • Lust, Caution: political intrigue plus graphic sex and violence in war-torn China
  • Brokeback Mountain: homosexuality in cowboy country
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: martial arts, fantasy and action in late 18th century China

Now Life of Pi, set mainly on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean.

An amazing story

The Yann Martel novel is a masterpiece of creative writing, as it a story like no other. Pi is in fact Piscine Molitor Patel, named after a French swimming pool where his father loved to go as young man. Piscine’s fellow school pupils quickly call him by an unfortunate nick name, so as a keen mathematics student he adopts the shortened form.

His father runs a zoo in The French colony of Pondicherry in India, but with political change looming he decides to ship the family and the zoo to Canada.

A short way across the Pacific the ship encounters a ferocious storm and Pi finds himself in a lifeboat with a hyena, zebra and orangutan for company… and a Bengal tiger called Richard Parker.

Most of the movie involves the interaction of Pi with the tiger set against the Pacific Ocean which reveals its many moods and marine inhabitants.

As in the book, the adult Pi recounts his amazing adventures to a would-be novelist in Canada. This works well and it is quickly established that Pi is a religious man of many persuasions: Hindu, Christian, Muslim and perhaps Jewish.

Faith is a house with many rooms he tells his rapt listener and says that by the end of his story they will believe in God.

Magic on the screen

From the start you know you are in for a special movie experience. The opening credits undulate around zoo animals that come across the dusty screen from all angles, starting with a sloth and a humming bird.

This sets the tone for superb cinematography throughout the film which is bound to attract awards. There are wonderful set-pieces such as

  • the incredible storm scene which sinks the ship
  • the arrival of the flying fish
  • the tumultuous impact of a passing whale
  • the floating island with its thousands of meerkats
  • the Pacific doldrums where the sky is reflected in the perfectly still ocean.

Superb directing and acting

Ang Lee has produced a classy 3D movie which has already attracted eleven Academy Award nominations. The tight editing and beautifully filmed settings, which are a hallmark of his work, are to the fore in Life of Pi.

All the actors are first class and there is even a small cameo from a slobbish Gerard Depardieu. However in the title role 16 year old Suraj Sharma is superb and it’s his performance that carries the film. The ever hungry tiger, digitally enhanced or however they did it, isn’t bad either!

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