In Life Of Pi, a 3D screen adaptation of what was widely believed to be an impossible-to-film novel, a director at the top of his game brings all his expertise to bear upon the epic and surreal tale of a boy’s disaster-propelled journey to adulthood. The result is out of this world.Life of Pi isn’t merely another 3D extravaganza designed to deliver bushels of cheap thrills. There is infinitely more to it. It is a hauntingly attractive film that, like the fine book it is based on, dwells upon questions of human existence and man’s tangled relationship with God, Nature and beasts of the animal kingdom in a way that few potential blockbusters ever do, with ease and simplicity. Like Richard Parker, the Bengal tiger with a human name in whose predatory eyes the young protagonist looks for an innate connection with animals, Life of Pi has “a soul”. It grows on you all the way through.
Precocious but introverted teenager Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel (Suraj Sharma) is stranded in the rough waters of the Pacific Ocean in a lifeboat and a hastily rigged-up raft after a Japanese freighter capsizes in a fierce storm. He is the only human survivor of the shipwreck. Pi’s entire family – agnostic Puducherry zookeeper-dad (Adil Hussain), doting mom (Tabu) and elder brother (Ayan Khan/Vibish Sivakumar) – has perished. Left to his own devices in frightening circumstances, the boy learns the hard way to deal with every adversity thrown at him by the elements, a ferocious tiger that needs constant feeding, and his unshakeable “love of God” that has made him a Hindu, Christian and Muslim rolled into one.Life of Pi offers no closure – in the end, the audience is not even sure whether the incredible story that the adult Pi (Irrfan Khan), sitting in his Montreal home, narrates to the writer (Rafe Spall) actually happened exactly quite in the way that he recollects it. Lee leaves it at that, and the open-ended culmination only enhances the immersive nature of the story that has gone before. It sucks you in completely, makes you plunge into the tale and live it in all its grand bewilderment. The visual effects are eye-popping. The 3D imagery is consistently stunning. The storytelling is outstanding. And the spiritual underpinnings of the original text are raised to extraordinary heights through the simplest of narrative devices.
But, most importantly, at the heart of Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, as in author Yann Martel’s, is a riveting odyssey of human fortitude and faith that never fails to grip. It is entertaining and uplifting.Lee follows the book for the most part but adds his own delightfully inventive touches to the incredible coming of age fantasy-adventure and imparts breathtaking enchantment to what is essentially a simple allegory about life, religion and survival in hostile circumstances.Life of Pi achieves a quality that is rare for a 3D film – while the consistently awesome technical wizardry adds great beauty and depth to this universe it is never allowed to overshadow the substance of the narrative. In fact, it abounds in passages where the stunning range of the SFX and the marvels of simple storytelling are so seamlessly dovetailed into each other that you are quite likely to forget at times that Life of Pi is a 3D film. Even when he brings on a hail of flying fish or turns the focus to a school of dolphins dancing across the sea, the director resists the temptation to turn it into distracting visual feast. But he invests the film with a painterly feel that reveals his mastery over the spatial aesthetics of 3D moviemaking.Screenwriter David Magee, cinematographer Claudio Miranda and music composer Mychael Danna are able allies in this enterprise, as are the wonderfully well cast actors.
Irrfan Khan, as always, is first rate: he packs his performance with warmth, humour and just the right dash of emotion. Adil Hussain, too, is as competent as ever, providing a convincing portrait of a cynical but realistic counterpoint to the childlike vision of the protagonist. Non-pro Suraj Sharma, fished out of nowhere for Life of Pi, is the lifeblood of the film. He is an absolute delight to watch. Not for a moment does he give the impression that he has never faced a movie camera before.Grab a piece of this Pi. It is a must watch. In terms of both the scale of its ambition and the exquisite perfection of its execution, Life of Pi is pure magic.