Movie review: Life of Pi
Life of Pi is a best-selling and award-winning novel by Canadian author Yann Martel. The story revolves around an Indian boy named Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel who finds himself stranded in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger after a shipwreck. I know from past experiences that either reading the book before watching the movie adaptation, or vice versa, is a losing proposition. It ends up spoiling whatever comes second. So I adopted a new strategy: I would start the book – without finishing it – before walking into the theatre. By the time I put on my 3-D glasses, I was on page 102, about a quarter way into the novel.
I was excited that Ang Lee, one of my favourite directors of all time, has taken on the challenge of adapting an almost unadaptable movie. Lee’s films, from Eat Drink Man Woman to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Lust, Caution, have the power to re-invent the relevant genres. Hulk is a rare exception where the director might have second-guessed himself and over-thought the project. In Life of Pi, Lee shows us what he does best: storytelling. The film is a triumph and is widely expected to be a serious best picture contender at the next Academy Awards. Martel must have been very pleased.
Life is Robinson Crusoe meets National Geographic. While the audience fears for the castaway and admires his courage and resourcefulness, it is given a zoology lesson on nature’s endless wonders. The film is a David Attenborough documentary on steroids. Watching the boy hero cope with his feline companion while simultaneously fighting the elements, we are reminded of the many parallels between the animal world and our own, as well as our powerlessness against the vicissitudes of life. Nature gives, but it also destroys.
Life is one of the most cinematically stunning movies ever made. It is the reason 3-D technology was invented. The opening sequence, a poetic stroll through the zoo run by Pi’s father, is a visual feast of exotic animals and birds. Then there are the glowing jellyfish that set the ocean alight, the flight of flying fish that looks like an airborne animal stampede and the meerkat colony on a mysterious floating island that draws a simultaneous “wow” from the audience. Even though the movie boasts no big marquee names, it requires none because the real star of the movie is Mother Nature herself.
A great movie is one that moves you and leaves you thinking about it for days and weeks. Life does both. Is the story about religion and our relationship with God? Or is it about loss and the pain of letting go? The Pi character puts it best: “why can’t it just be a story? Why does it have to mean anything at all?” He is right. All I know is that far from spoiling the novel, the movie makes me want to finish the rest of it more than ever.