Ang Lee’s new movie, Life of Pi, is a take on a supposedly unfilmable book about a young Indian boy named Piscine Molitor Patel – Pi for short. Born in French India, Pi lived in a zoo run by his parents. Growing up, he experiments with different faiths and religions so he became Hindu, Christian and Muslim. The tough situation in India forces Pi’s family to relocate to Canada. They pack their animals and board a Japanese ship which sinks over the Mariana Trench, a few days off the coast of the Philippines leaving Pi stranded on a boat with a hyena, a zebra, an orangutang and a Bengali tiger called Richard Parker with nothing but a strong will to survive to help him.
Life of Pi is visually stunning, be it from Lee’s supreme camera work and keen attention to detail to the expert cinematography work, apparent through the extremely diverse color palette that’s accurately conveyed on screen. The 3D employed here gives a depth to the movie that few other 3D movies can boast about. In a way, the 3D helps in situating all characters involved in the restricted space they’re given: the tiger on a boat, Pi on a raft – and the Pacific ocean all around them.
The CGI imagery of ocean creatures is so believable that it becomes nothing short of magic, especially in scenes of nightly luminescence. Even the tiger Richard Parker is the work of a computer. The effect is extraordinary.
Mychael Danna’s score cannot be ignored as well. It infuses itself in the scenes it accompanies quite well. It’s a soothing, enchanting and entrancing musical body that serves as a fitting auditory counterpart to Life of Pi‘s visual mastery.
But Life of Pi can’t be simplified only by its visual aspect, Ang Lee’s camera, Claudio Miranda’s cinematography or Mychael Danna’s music. The movie’s inherent and main theme about faith is what the movie’s all about. But it’s conveyed in subtle ways so it doesn’t come off as preachy. It doesn’t come off as a “you need to believe in God ASAP” PSA – on the contrary, the metaphors the movie employs are left for the viewer to interpret.
Suraj Sharma, an inexperienced newcomer, does a great job at portraying Pi’s struggles, his life and his soul while a serene middle-aged Pi, Irfan Khan, narrates the story to a Canadian author portrayed by Rafe Spall.
Life of Pi‘s main problem, however, is that it invites you to so many things that at the end it leaves you with no clue as to what to make of it. The imagery may be the best thing that has happened to movies in years and the storytelling is definitely gripping but it’s spread too thin sometimes. The movie’s final twist is also handled in a grossly perfunctory manner, which compromises the movie’s foundation, leaving you feeling somewhat empty as you exit that movie theatre.
In a way, the heights that Life of Pi promises you for most of its run turn out much lower than originally perceived and that’s a shame for something so marvelously well-done.