Life of Pi Nov 22, 2012 23:00:30 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Nov 22, 2012 23:00:30 GMT -5
Sea, boat, tiger, boy, and sky make up Life of Pi.
Life of Pi is one of the most marvelous theater experiences I've had all year. Its Oscar for art direction and cinematography should already be locked in. It's a film of incorruptible beauty and deeply satisfying drama which squeezes so much power and emotion out of its audience that they leave feeling riveted at the same time drained. You can bet the film's main character feels the exact same way.
Here's a beautiful, touching story that could've easily strayed into cinematic heavy-handedness or, worse, a facile, self-pleasing spirituality play, but it all starts with Ang Lee's intelligent, firm grip on the material, offering a whole world of possibilities as the film begins to inhabit a world within ours. You may have heard of a little film called Avatar, directed by fellow visionaire James Cameron that went on to gross well over two billion dollars (you may have seen it) and sit pretty as the highest grossing film of all time. There was a picture that combined masterful visuals into a passable, yet familiar package. Now here comes Life of Pi, a film that won't get half the recognition among mainstream audiences, but has the visuals down to a tune and refuses to neglect the story's development while simultaneously dodging feeble plot points.
Our main character is an adult named Piscine Molitor, who goes by the name "Pi Patel," and we meet him as an adult (played by Irrfan Khan) who begins telling his long life-story to a writer planning to adapt it (Rafe Spall). It's a story that tested him as a person in every possible way, and it all goes back to when his parents made the decision to move from India to Canada, and because Pi's father was a zookeeper, take many animals such as orangutans, zebras, goats, and tigers with them on an enormous ship across the Pacific Ocean. Before this move, Pi was an optimistic soul, who ventured out as a young boy beyond his comfort zone in his Hindu religion to seek out other walks of faith, specifically Christianity and Islam, which he began following all at once.
During the move, a wild, violent storm hits the ocean, flooding the ship and sending Pi, a zebra with a broken leg, a hyena, an orangutan, and a tiger named "Richard Parker" on a lifeboat, leaving behind the several other animals and Pi's entirely family. This whole sequence, which lasts around five minutes, feels like the entire movie The Perfect Storm shortened from its original two-hour length, only it emphasizes the emotional elements. This is one of the saddest scenes of the year, as we see a teenage Pi (now played by Suraj Sharma) desperately hold onto the lifeboat for dear-life, while being washed away from his mother, father, and siblings and there is absolutely nothing he can do about it. Between you and I, reader, this is one of the most emotionally upsetting scenes (this and the ending of the film) I've ever sat through in a theater.
Now, Pi is stranded in the middle of the Pacific, with an open sky, four different animals, until they are picked off with only the tiger remaining, and his own will to live. The remainder of the film forgoes the back-and-forth narrative between adult Pi telling the story to the writer, but remains focused on his own recollection of events on that lifeboat and the acts of bravery he committed to keep him and the tiger alive. While Pi and Richard Parker are sharing the boat, that does not mean they get along. Writer David Magee makes no mistake in illustrating that while they are stranded together, Pi is a human boy and Richard Parker is a Bengal tiger. The beauty of this picture is that it never mistakes that the only common traits between these two souls is that they are stranded together and both are mammals.
But we still see that Pi believes his duty is to nurse Richard Parker to at least stable condition (perhaps a by-product of his religion(s)?), and over the long period of time he spends in the middle of nowhere, his prime concern is keeping the tiger alive. He swears that if it had not been for attending to Richard Parker's hunger that he would've surely died and not have lasted half as long as he did.
Life of Pi's visuals are astounding. After seeing Ron Fricke's Samsara this same year, I was convinced I'd never see a film that would match its breathtaking visual beauty. Life of Pi has not surpassed it, but I confidently state that it's on the same level. Long shots that hold on the vast emptiness of the Pacific are invigorating because of their wide range of beauty and clarity, sequences of peril and uncertainty are captured through an equally clear, vivid lens, making them all the more real and enthralling, and atmospherically, the picture shows the dangers and the loneliness of the ocean better than any film I have yet to see.
Thematically, the picture focuses on predominately on the idea of survival and
spirituality, which gratefully helps Pi keep hope and optimism during these gruelingly unforgiving days. One of the most intense and poignant scenes comes when Pi is faced with the task of killing a large fish. He is starving, and becoming skinnier by the day, so he fiercely grabs a fish out of the water and begins hacking at it with a small axe. When the fish is bloody and long dead, he begins to sob tears of joy and sadness; joy because he finally has a decent portion of food, yet sadness in the idea that he has killed a living creature and is about to abandon his vegetarian vow. It's a scene that, once more, clouded my eyes with tears, just like Pi's, of joy and sadness. The spirituality aspect comes in when we see that Pi, even after losing his family and nearly losing his life, still holds his religion(s) near and dear to his heart like a family heirloom. Even as a non-believer, I hunger for stories of spirituality mainly because seeing other walks of life, regardless of race, sex, or beliefs, continue to inspire me and fill me with a greater lust for life.
This is a picture of sheer power and beauty. A film that clearly tests its lead actor, Sharma, who is inhabiting his first main role, and a film that will hopefully go on to live with a reputation of one of cinema's supreme achievements. It must be said that in Ang Lee's twenty year film career that he has tackled almost every genre in the medium and done so with an extraordinary amount of confidence. His directorial efforts too have not been minor additions to the genre, but true game-changers if anything. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a martial arts film filled with depth and delight. Hulk was a superhero movie that added so much weight to its characters and relationships, you'd think Christopher Nolan's modern-day Dark Knight franchise was taking notes from it. And Brokeback Mountain was, for the most part, a lively portrayal of two men who've kept their orientation silent for so long that they begin to embrace it by meeting each other out of the blue. Life of Pi offers more of the same grandiose ideas from the brilliant visionaire and its shocking smoothness in terms of filming, placement, and writing is beyond fabulous and wildly consuming because of its clarity. This is one of the best films of the year, and on-par with the depth and cinematography in Samsara, making this year one of the most beautiful.
Starring: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, and Rafe Spall. Directed by: Ang Lee.