★★★★★ | Life Of Pi
An Indian boy (Suraj Sharma), the son of a zoo keeper, with the improbable name of Pi, short for the even more improbable Piscine (I’ll let you find out for yourself how he came by that name) is shipwrecked and finds himself adrift in the Pacific Ocean, with a zebra, a hyena, an orang-utan and a Bengal tiger, called Richard Parker.
Sounds improbable? Well that’s kind of the point. This is David Magee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel The Life of Pi, which, I should point out, I have never read, so I have no idea if it is a good adaptation or not. What I am quite sure of is that it is one of the best movies Ang Lee (director of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain) has ever given us.
The first thing to say is that, visually, this is a very beautiful film, and often a stunning one. The 3D effects and CGI are amazing, but the movie is so much more. Often these days, one feels that a movie is all about effects, but in Life of Pi, the effects are used to enhance what is already a compelling narrative. Lee’s use of 3G is almost poetic, immeasurably helped here by Claudio Miranda’s wonderful (in its true sense of full of wonder) cinematography.
Suraj Sharma gives an incredible performance, growing in stature as the movie progresses and Pi learns more about life and survival, all the more remarkable when you consider that for the most part he had to react to a beast that wasn’t actually there (Richard Parker, the tiger, is mostly depicted through the magic of CGI). His performance is matched by that of Irrfan Khan, who plays the older Pi, telling his story to a Canadian writer (Rafe Spall). Like the writer, we are drawn in by Khan’s magical storytelling, the pain behind his eyes hiding a truth that is never fully explained. Like Pi, Ang Lee knows how to tell a story, how to draw his audience in. He did it in Brokeback Mountain, and, in a completely different way, he does it here. His direction is never less than masterful, more than that, poetic, inspiring.
At the end of the movie, Pi tells us that when he was finally rescued, the story of how he survived was not believed by the authorities investigating the shipwreck, so he came up with another one, more prosaic, but even more brutal. Is the first story an allegory of the second? We are left to make our own minds up, but I know which one I choose. Definitely one of my movies of the year.