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28 Nov 2012

Life of Pi

Ang Lee shows himself to be a magician in the visual spectacle that is Life of Pi.

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Director: Ang Lee

Screenplay: David Magee; based on the novel by Yann Martell

Cast: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Tabu, Adil Hussain, Gerard Depardieu, Rafe Spall

A boy, a zebra, an orang utan, a spotted hyena, and a Bengal tiger find themselves on a lifeboat drifting in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the sole survivors of a shipwreck. Improbable the premise may be and more improbable how the story does unfold, hilarity does not ensue. In Life of Pi, the grown-up version of the boy relates to a visiting novelist how his younger self came to survive the ordeal, and how this story will convince the novelist in the existence of God.

It's sort of like Robinson Crusoe, with an Indian teenager and his not-quite pet tiger marooned in the open seas instead of an Englishman stuck on an uninhabited island with his native sidekick. And with enough beautiful CGI (including the iridescent whales in the trailer to the tiger to the clouds and the sublime painterly sky) to make your jaw drop to the ground, if it hasn't already from the improbable adventures of Pi in the middle Pacific.

Whether or not you are impressed by the hokey storytelling and the easy spirituality it hawks, Life of Pi is a pure visual film whose beautiful images and technical artistry are justification enough for its existence.

That being said, I recognise that Life of Pi is also liable to bring out the "Bah, humbug!" from certain audiences. Yann Martell's blatant Orientalism survives intact in the film, promoting through the lens of contemporary American psyche an easy, self-congratulatory spirituality that springs from confusing cheap sentimentality for the numinous. If you do take an oppositional reading of the film, you might say there's only one way that an improbable yarn could inspire someone to believe in God — it can only happen if that someone believes that the more improbable a story, the more likely it is to inspire belief.

Ang Lee adopts a conservative approach in this adaptation, hewing very faithfully to how the novel tells its story from the very beginning — a long prologue set in Emergency India. Cinematically, this approach is problematic given how the story (or at least the one that matters most) begins in earnest only in the middle of the film, and how this long middle section can get monotonous even with (or precisely because of) all that wondrous CGI (especially in Ang Lee's no-longer Crouching Tiger Richard Parker, almost a star by himself) and improbable, episodic adventures.

As an adaptation, Ang Lee's Life of Pi is a thing of beauty and wonder, no matter the flaws of its source material.

Reader's Comments

1. 2012-11-29 02:58
Love this movie! And he's quite cute too — love his lips! :-)
Comment #2 was deleted by its author on 2012-11-30 15:58
3. 2012-11-30 15:59
In love with Richard Parker
Comment #4 was deleted by its author on 2012-12-01 07:38
5. 2012-12-01 07:38
I thought it was a wonderful movie..... one of the most enjoyable I've seen in a number of years! I highly recommend it!
6. 2012-12-05 09:28
I thought it was great and thought provoking.
7. 2013-02-01 16:21
It wasn't just a movie. It was a cinematic experience. It's a wonderful story and worth seeing for that alone but the cinematography is in a word AMAZING. The only way to totally enjoy it is on the big screen.

I convinced my mom to see it. She wanted to read the book first but saw it anyway after my recommendation. She decided not to read the book afterwards. She felt there was no way that the book could match the movie for awesomeness and enjoyment.
8. 2013-02-05 15:58
A very difficult book to translate to film. Ang Lee of course never shies way from a challenge, but here he has had to make compromises. So the seemingly faux spirituality giving way to the wonder of CGI. And yet it has a 'spiritual' message. I agree entirely with Vernon's comment of the 'oppositional reading' in the review.
Hats off to Suraj Sharma though. The guy's never acted in his life. Here he must have emoted for the camera against a green screen - thanks to all the CGI. An entirely convincing, nuanced performance - or is all that just another tribute to the great Ang Lee.
My movie of the year.

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