The Life of Pi
Like the story of Pi, this movie isn’t about lines of dialog. It’s about the journey.
Do you have faith? For some the question is easy; for others, an epic journey. One writer (Rafe Spall: Prometheus) is in search of true faith and a story to make him believe in God. His search leads him to Pi (Irrfan Khan: The Amazing Spiderman), a middle-aged man who shares a tale of survival and faith that rivals Job.
Pi (in flashback Suraj Sharma) grew up at his parents’ zoo in India. He follows religions like other little boys collect Hot Wheels, simultaneously embracing Hinduism, Catholicism and Islam.
When the family emigrates to Canada, several zoo animals accompany them on a freighter headed for North America. The dream of a new life is dashed when a squall sinks the ship and Pi’s family.
Pi survives, traumatized and adrift, alone, in the Pacific Ocean.
Well, not entirely alone.
Zoo animals, it turns out, have a pretty strong survival instinct. A Bengal tiger improbably named Richard Parker joins him. With a ravenous tiger aboard, Pi’s 30-person lifeboat seems like a dinghy.
To survive, Pi must abandon his vegetarian diet, learn to fish, protect himself from the elements, look for land and avoid becoming dinner for his wild shipmate.
It’s a good thing Pi follows three religions, because he needs help from Jesus, Allah and Krishna to make it back to civilization.
Deciding his journey is a test of faith, Pi surrenders himself to the whims of his multi-faith god. How will these trials affect his faith? And how do you tame a tiger with some fish and a sharp stick?
Based on the novel by Yann Martel, Life of Pi is strongest when director Ang Lee (Taking Woodstock) is allowed to unleash his imagination in cinematography. The director’s natural sense of visual grandeur couples with the wonders Pi encounters to create a magical setting — from images of life in India to the wonders of the open ocean. Lee makes each frame of these vast scenes a painting while emphasizing how alone Pi and Richard Parker are.
The script, on the other hand, spends far too long trying to explain the significance of Pi’s journey. The framing device of the writer interviewing adult Pi is especially egregious as it eliminates suspense. Clearly, Pi has survived his epic test.
Dialog also labors as Lee explains religious concepts as if for a Religion 101 course. Don’t worry if you don’t get a religious allusion the first time; Life of Pi hammers each point so often that the tiger must be enlightened.
Still, like the story of Pi, this movie isn’t about lines of dialog. It’s about the journey.