If you haven’t noticed the trend in my taste yet, I am a huge fan of intimate human tales. High concept films are always entertaining, but there’s nothing better than being emotionally connected through works of fiction – which Life of Pi accomplished right out of the gate with rare perfection.
Being based on one of Mrs. Hickman’s very favorite books, Life of Pi had a lot to live up to. I’ve never read the book, but have only heard praises from several trusty sources, so I went in with huge expectations that were not only met, but exceeded.
Life of Pi opens by painting a picture. Instead of painting a mere setting, we see how much this setting in particular has formed our central character. Pi was raised in a city-owned zoo that his father ran in India. With a curiosity greater than that of most children, he strove to learn about things that he did not understand. No challenge was big enough to overcome. This mindset is what kept him alive through the unimaginable trial that he went through in his teenage years.
When times became difficult in India, Pi’s parents decided that it was time to leave their country in search of stability elsewhere. Their plan was flawless: to ship and sell the zoo animals in the Americas and build a new foundation in Canada. It was such a perfect plan that nobody could have predicted that it would capsize on the high seas. While crossing the Pacific Ocean late one night, something aboard the huge vessel goes wrong and the cargo ship begins to sink. Before the entire ship can be submerged, Pi is stranded as the only human survivor – his life boat companions being a few zoo animals he rescues while adrift: a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena and full grown Bengal tiger. (I’ll bet you can’t tell which of those four animals lasts the longest.) Pi must not only fight to survive the elements, but his ferocious companions. Because the framework of the film consists of adult Pi retelling his life story, we’re not worried about if he is going to survive, rather how he is going to survive.
The majority of the worries that I hear from friends is, “How can a movie about a shipwrecked teenager and a tiger keep me entertained?” The answer is simple. Life of Pi establishes characters worth caring about – and I’m not only talking about Pi. Despite trying to maul him at any given moment, Pi’s tiger (whose name I’ll refrain from spoiling) creates an emotional connection with the audience. The only character connection that I believe is strong that the one with the audience and the tiger is the one formed with us and Pi himself. Thanks to the combination of great characters and the very strong pre-sinking introduction of the film, this worry is a non-issue.
Another aspect keeping Life of Pi afloat and stopping your mind from drifting is director Ang Lee’s mesmerizing visuals. Not a single frame of the film is set on the actual ocean. Brilliant special effects have seamlessly created a believable digital reality. The seams between real and contrived are impossible to spot. Many sequences are so surreal that they’re obviously computer generated, but that doesn’t stop them from appearing realistic and serving as eye-candy.
I cannot urge you enough to experience Life of Pi for yourself. It’s the type of film that you walk away from completely happy. It has the ability to reach spiritual heights without coming across as preachy or denominationally charged. The content may not be suitable for all ages (I believe that Life of Pi should have received a tame PG-13 rating for tense situations and some animal violence), but the message is one that people of all ages should know.
If you’re keeping tabs on the Oscar contenders, don’t let Life of Pi slip by.
Photo credit: Fox