“LIFE OF PI” (2012) Review
It has been a while since Hollywood went into a tizzy over a movie directed by Ang Lee. His latest opus turned out to be “LIFE OF PI”, an adaptation of Yann Martel’s 2001 fantasy-adventure novel. The movie earned at least eleven nominations and won at least four, including a second Best Director Academy Award for Lee.
“LIFE OF PI” begins in early 21st century Canada; when a local writer is advised to interview a middle-aged immigrant from Puducherry with a very interesting story to tell. Pi Patel then proceeds to tell the writer about his family and childhood in Puducherry. According to Patel, his father owned a zoo and it was there he first met the zoo’s new Bengal tiger called Richard Parker. When Patel was 16 years old, his father announces his intention to move the family to Winnipeg, Canada. There, he plans to sell the zoo animals and live. Pi, saddened by the idea of leaving his family and his new love, does not tell the news very well.
The family books passage aboard a Japanese freighter called the Tzimtzum. During the voyage, the Tzimtzum begins to founder during a heavy storm, while Pi is on deck. Before he can find his family, a crew member throws him into a lifeboat. As the ship begins to sink, a zebra leaps into the lifeboat and injures himself. The rest of Pi’s family along with other passengers and crewmen die as the Tzimtzum sinks. Once the storm is over, Pi discovers that other animals had made their way into the lifeboat – an orangutan and a hyena. The hyena angers Pi by killing the zebra and then the orangutan. Before he can do anything about it, the tiger Richard Parker suddenly emerges from under the lifeboat’s tarp and kills the hyena. Pi is left alone with Richard Parker, in which the two continue the journey as wary adversaries. By the time their journey ends on the Mexican coastline, they have become friends before Richard Parker disappears into the jungle.
When I first saw the trailer for “LIFE OF PI”, I did not want to see it. Period. Despite my knowledge that the movie had been directed by Ang Lee – of whom I am a fan – I did not want to see it. I did not want to see a movie about a boy surviving God knows how many days in a lifeboat with a tiger. End of story. When the movie was finally released in theaters, I went out of my way to avoid it . . . despite the positive press from the film critics. And even when it accumulated so many Golden Globe and Academy Awards nominations, I still refused to see it. I finally came around and saw “LIFE OF PI” when it was finally released on DVD. Did I regret missing it while it was in the theaters? Hmmmmm . . . not really. But I must admit that it was a pretty damn good film.
One . . . it had a good story. Lee, along with screenwriter David Magee did an excellent job in setting up Martel’s story on screen. The movie devoted at least a good half hour into Pi’s family background and his childhood. They especially took care in revealing his parents’ philosophies – something that would profoundly affect his harsh ocean journey from Puducherry to Mexico. They also did an excellent job in utilizing the literary device of the flashback, using middle-age Pi’s interview with a journalist. In fact, I believe that this device, along with Pi’s first-person (whether he was the 16 year-old boy or the middle-aged man) narration help keep the story alive for me.
There were other aspects of “LIFE OF PI” that impressed me. Mychael Danna won a much deserved Academy Award for writing the movie’s score. Mind you, I could not remember it for the likes of me. But I do recall how perfectly it meshed with the film’s narration. I also have to commend the beautiful visual effects created by the now bankrupt Rhythm & Hues Studios. Their visuals – especially of the animals featured in this movie – struck me as breathtaking. Although some of the animals, like those featured in Pi’s lifeboat, seemed real; while others like the meerkats on the floating island seemed more artistic than real. I especially enjoyed the sequence in which Pi’s lifeboat encountered a breaching Humpback whale and the school of dolphins.
I can see many shaking their heads over my review so far. How could I have enjoyed this movie so much, if I did not regret missing it in the theaters? Remember my reason why I originally avoided the film in the first place? I did not want to see a movie about a boy and a tiger in a lifeboat. While watching the movie, I found myself wishing that the entire sequence featuring Pi and “Richard Parker” could be shorter. It almost seemed to go on . . . forever. This sequence also brought back some not-so-pleasant memories of Tom Hanks and a volleyball named Wilson in the 2000 film, “CASTAWAY”. I felt relieved when Hanks’ character was finally rescued by a freighter in that movie. While watching “LIFE OF PI”, I eventually fell asleep before Pi and “Richard Parker” reached the floating island of the meerkats and Mexico. I woke up just in time to witness the escape from the meerkats island. Why did it have to take so long? I realize that the movie was about Pi’s emotional and spiritual journey. But did it have to take so long? Oh well. It was still a damn good movie that ended on a very satisfying note.
From what I had read, Ang Lee personally selected 17 year-old Suraj Sharma to portray the 16 year-old Pi. And I must say that Sharma gave a stupendous performance. Along with Lee’s direction and the visual effects, Sharma really made that movie. He did an excellent job in conveying Pi’s journey from innocence to heartbreak to spiritual maturity. And I am astounded that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences failed to nominate him for a Best Actor award. What in the hell were they thinking? I realize that the competition was pretty tough for 2012, but still . . . he should have been considered among the top three nominees.
The cast also benefited from excellent supporting performances from Irrfan Khan, who was excellent as the mature Pi. Rafe Spall was charming as the Canadian writer who interviewed Pi. Tabu gave an emotionally satisfying performance as Pi’s mother Gita Pitel. And I was certainly impressed by Adil Hussain’s commanding portrayal of Pi’s father, Santosh Patel. Gérard Depardieu was certain memorable as the Tzimtzum’s unpleasant cook. And James Saito added a great deal of intensity to the heartbreaking scene featuring an interview between Pi and the older Japanese insurance investigator. It was good to see him again.
What else can I say about “LIFE OF PI”? It was a beautiful and heartbreaking adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel. Once again, Ang Lee proved to the world that when he puts his heart and soul into a film, he can create something beautiful. And he was ably supported by an excellent cast led by the very talented Suraj Sharma, Rhythm & Hues Studio’s visual effects and Mychael Danna’s score. I do not think I would ever love this movie. I am sorry, but I could not deal with so many minutes devoted to a boy and a tiger in a boat. But I must say that I enjoyed it very much.