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Movie Review: Life of Pi
Adam Frazier   |  

Life of Pi PosterLife of Pi
Directed by Ang Lee
Written by David Magee
Starring Suraj Sharma, Tabu, Adil Hussain, Irrfan Khan, Rafe Spall
20th Century Fox
Rated PG | 127 Minutes
Release Date: November 21, 2012
Purchase Tickets on Fandango

Based on the 2001 novel of the same name by Yann Martel, Life of Pi is directed by Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain) from an adapted screenplay by David Magee (Finding Neverland) and Martin Solibakke.

Lee’s film stars Suraj Sharma (who makes his acting debut) as Pi, a 16-year-old boy stranded at sea after the steamliner carrying his family’s zoo sinks during a terrifying and astonishing storm.

Pi finds himself trapped on a lifeboat with a fearsome (and hungry) Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Over the course of months, the two unlikely castaways must depend on each other to survive.

Life of Pi is one of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful, visually staggering films I have ever seen. And while I’ve been known for uncontrollable fits of exaggeration and hyperbole, I have never been so sure of my own amazement. The cinematography by Claudio Miranda (Tron: Legacy, Zodiac) combined with Lee’s masterful use of 3D make Life of Pi a mind-blowing cinematic journey.

I have never seen nature, more specifically the ocean, represented so magnificently as it is in Lee’s film. During the sea-churning storm that sinks the steamliner, the ocean seemingly transforms into a massive mountain range made of water: 2,000-foot-tall waves rolling and crashing as Pi clings to survival on his minuscule lifeboat.

Once the storm subsides, we see the ocean as a sun-drenched paradise, so still and so perfect that it acts as a mirror for vibrant sunsets and idyllic sky-blue vistas, splashed with billowy cumulus clouds. At night, it is a luminous, extraterrestrial world filled with fluorescent plankton and countless majestic creatures.

Life of Pi: Richard Parker

In discussing just the visual and technical achievements on display here, Ang Lee’s Life of Pi is already a certified masterpiece. Whether you’re someone who champions the 3D format, or sees it as more of a gimmick, in the hands of a craftsman like Lee, it is used to subtly enrich and refine the image.

While the visuals are impressive, there are two more important elements that make Life of Pi more than just your run-of-the-mill special effects blockbuster. Suraj Sharma delivers an incredible performance in his film debut. Sharma carries the film on his shoulders, as most of the screen time is devoted to his one-on-one relationship with a computer-generated tiger. You feel his despair and desperation, as well as his fear and respect for Richard Parker – a fully realized character in his own right.

Lee injects the kaleidoscopic imagery with religious symbolism and emotional resonance, providing a heartfelt spiritual journey for Pi as he struggles in the face of hopelessness, finding an unlikely companionship in the tiger – similar to Timothy Treadwell’s uneasy relationship with wild bears in Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man.

We are shown a ferocious Bengal tiger and left to wonder if in its eyes we see a soul – proof of God’s very existence – or an instinctual beast, a wild animal that reflects ‘the chaotic indifference of nature’ as Herzog would put it. The film is about the search for God, a word you could easily replace with ‘meaning.’ If Pi can find that, even though it doesn’t end up being what he expects, we all can.

Life of Pi moved me in ways I did not expect. It humbled me by showing me a world of wonder, one often taken for granted – a planet filled with zebra, hyena, orangutans, meerkats, flying fish, and whale sharks. Imagine Planet Earth meets Avatar and you’ve got some idea of the sumptuous, naturalistic beauty on display in Lee’s film.

Life of Pi deserves Best Picture. Will it get it? I’m not so sure. I have faith it will be nominated, but against films like Argo, Les Misérables, and the highly overrated Lincoln, Life of Pi could get lost in the whirlwind of the awards season political hype machine.

Beautiful. Stunning. Moving. Life of Pi is a cinematic triumph and a return to form for director Ang Lee, a film that must be seen (in 3D) to be believed.

Trailer:

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