Life of Pi (USA 2012)
With LIFE OF PI, Ang Lee, director of such masterpieces as BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, has created a seminal cinematic event. It tells the story of a young man who survives a disaster at sea and is hurtled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery, together with one other survivor – a full-grown Bengal tiger.
Ang Lee’s LIFE OF PI is a wondrous cinematic experience which appeals to all the senses, and a hugely successful adaptation of what must, once again, have been considered by many to be Yam Martel’s “unfilmable” bestseller. A visual milestone and perfect marriage of live action and CGI animation and, as if that is not enough, an excitingly emotional and spiritual triumph: all in stunning 3D.
LIFE OF PI begins in the India of the ’70s, where 17-year old Piscine Molitor Patel (Suraj Sharma), who prefers to be called Pi for obvious reasons, lives a comfortable life with his family in the province of Pondicherry. But as political events begin taking their toll and the country finds itself in a state of upheaval, Pi’s father (Adil Hussain), prosperous owner of a small zoo, fears that he will be unable to continue providing his family with the standard of living to which it has been accustomed. Deciding to leave India, the zoo is closed, all valuables packed – people, animals and belongings – and loaded onto a Japanese freighter, the family sets out on the long and difficult journey halfway round the world. Bound for Canada.
But a sudden violent storm hits the vessel in mid-ocean and it founders, drawing all passengers, human as well as animal, down with it into the watery depths. Only Pi, who went above decks to watch the storm, miraculously survives and, with the last of his strength, manages to fling himself into a lifeboat. Where he is not alone for long. A zebra, orang-utan, hyena and a fully-grown Bengal tiger also tumble into the boat with him, and all are swept away by the turbulent sea. His family never to be seen again.
Nature being what it is, it is not long before the lifeboat contains only two very wary passengers. Pi and the tiger known as Richard Parker, due to a fanciful mistake on the zoo’s records, where the name of the tiger and its captor were interchanged. Tigers are, as we soon learn, very powerful swimmers, which forces Pi to put some distance between them – not an easy task on a small lifeboat. But Pi is nothing if not resourceful.
We now move into the major part of the movie, which focuses on the 227 days at sea, during which the young man proves his ingenuity time and time again, while the tiger likewise proves that it can learn and adapt… Not to say that the two become friends, for the tiger is a savage predator and hardly a fluffy Disney character, but a basic understanding must be reached if both are to survive. Just how this is achieved is a tribute to Ang Lee’s magnificent film-making, Yam Martel’s original novel, and screenwriter David Magee’s triumphant adaptation. Claudio Miranda’s vibrant cinematography is enhanced by 3D, used to better effect than I have ever seen it before – AVATAR included. Deepening the sense of time and enormity of space where the sky meets the sea, enhancing the vast star-spangled heavens, and the phosphorescent trails left by myriad sea creatures in the night.
Suraj Sharma playing the young Pi puts in an extraordinary debut performance, as he develops throughout; growing gaunt, darker-skinned, gathering patience and wisdom. As for Richard Parker, well, knowing that most of the tiger footage was CGI didn’t stop it from scaring the crap out of me! The film serenely blends the various religious doctrines of the world into a complete philosophical ideology that celebrates the glory of life itself, without any gratuitous moralizing. What is real and what is fiction? And does it matter?
Made for an estimated budget of $120 mill, the movie has already grossed a worldwide $269 mill. since its US release on 21. November. LIFE OF PI is a spectacular work, the best picture of the year, in my opinion, and not to be missed!
LIFE OF PI (USA, 2012); German title: Life of Pi – Schiffbruch mit Tiger; Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox/Fox 2000 Pictures; Running time: 126 mins; Director: Ang Lee, Writers: David Magee (screenplay), Yam Martel (novel); Cast: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain, Tabu, Rafe Spall, Gerard Depardieu; Cinematographer: Claudio Miranda; Composer: Mychael Danna; Release date: US 21.Nov/Germany: 26. Dec.