With its’ poetic realism and sickly, spiritual subtext, Yann Martel’s international bestselling novel Life of Pi was once declared unfilmable. Until now. Directed by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s Ang Lee, even if the plot stinks; this beautiful adventure movie is an absolute must-see.
Newcomer Suraj Sharma stars as Piscine Molitor Patel, aka Pi; a well-educated, wistful teenager growing up on the grounds of his family’s zoo in Pondicherry, India. The curious son of liberal parentage, Pi is fascinated by the religions of the world, studying them in detail but undecided, what is the correct path for him. Finding the answer and his soul mate, his father declares that the family are broke and must relocate to Canada. Boarding a cargo ship with his family and the anaesthetised exotic animals resting in the hull underneath, their journey across the Pacific is disrupted by the perfect storm; sending the vessel plunging to the seabed. The only human survivor, orphaned Pi is left stranded aboard a lifeboat with a hysterical hyena, wounded zebra, benevolent orangutan and a Bengalese Tiger called Richard Parker.
You don’t have to be an ethologist to see that Pi’s predicament would cause an infinite number of problems. Once the animals clash, our hero is left as the carnivorous Richard Parker’s final prey. But through his resourcefulness and spirituality, Pi manages to survive the fatal claws of his feline shipmate and, over a period of 227 days, the pair end up forming a remarkable relationship, built on companionship, fear and the mutual hope that they will one day be rescued.
Words cannot describe how stunning this movie is to look at. With the help of cinematographer Claudio Miranda and a committed special effects team, the Oscar-Winning filmmaker behind Brokeback Mountain and the ill-fated comic-book hero Hulk has directed the first ever 3-D Art film. A bottomless box of visual delights, colours have never been so vivid, landscapes so luscious or 3D so fantastic. Instead of distancing us from the action on-screen, causing light-loss and nausea, the once-dreaded stereoscopic glasses deepen our engagement with Pi & Parker’s ordeal. An extraordinary quest where they encounter millions of flying fish skittering past them, phosphorescent jellyfish glowing underneath, a breaching whale gliding across the starry skyline and an island inhabited by 60,000 Meerkats.
In his debut role, Sharma is fantastic as Pi, able to balance religious fervour, comical flourish and irrepressible charm, even if his supporting catty cast member was almost entirely a digital creation, blended into the live action seamlessly. It’s incredibly refreshing to see the ironically named Richard Parker never anthropomorphized. He doesn’t talk, nor even exist in the real world, yet his presence in Pi’s is what saves him, and ultimately the film, from excessive “is there a god?” ruminations.
Adapted by screenplay writer David Magee (Finding Neverland), the cinematic spectacle does it’s best to cloak what is ostensibly a very corny plot, but elements of the baggy original novel still creep in. In typical Forest Gump style, most of the story unravels through recollection, with a present day Pi (played by Irrfan Khan), living in Montreal and narrating the tale to a curious Canadian novelist (Rafe Spall). It’s a telling-over-showing narrative compromise lifted directly from Martel’s novel. A thorny branch that jolts the audience back into the mundane world we are all used to, and away from the wonderful realm where we’d rather be.
Whilst my atheism was left unscathed, the rapturous aestheticism rekindled my passion for big blockbuser cinema. Life of Pi is a much-needed bit of heart-warming magic during this frosty festive season.