Coming back from Cancun last week, I re-watched a bit of Life of Pi, a great film that earned Ang Lee an Oscar for Best Director just a few weeks ago. I decided it was time to rehash an old review, and tweak it a bit for your enjoyment.
That’s what I was told going into my viewing of Life of Pi, and man, did it live up to the hype. Director Ang Lee (Sense and Sensibility, Brokeback Mountain) has done it again, orchestrating another Oscar-worthy film. What struck me almost immediately about Life of Pi, which is based on the 2001 novel of the same name by Yann Martel, was where its power comes from.
For the first thirty-odd minutes Lee devotes the screen time to exploring the title character Pi’s relationship with religion, his family and a tiger named Richard Parker. The story is told as a flashback, as the much older Pi is retelling his story to a writer who wants to get it on paper, setting the stage for the journey Pi is to take later in the film.
It just so happens that that journey is the most amazing visual experience I’ve ever had at the movies. That’s a bold statement, especially in the face of the spectacular aesthetics produced by James Cameron’s Avatar. But unlike Avatar, which is set on a tropical, distant planet, Life of Pi is much more intimate. From breaching whales to a myriad of meerkats on an algae island, it brings the world we live in to life on the silver screen like never before, making it more believable and astounding because of that.
Life of Pi is no one trick pony, however. The narrative is airtight and the performances are brilliant, coming from a cast that is mostly unknown to American audiences. But most striking is the story that develops as the 16-year old struggles to stay alive, drifting through the South Pacific. His friendship with Richard Parker provides a story that is unlike any you have seen in theaters for quite awhile. In many ways, Pi would have died long before his journey’s end had it not been for his striped companion. Without giving too much away, there are two scenes that reflect the nature of their relationship perfectly, and pack layers of meaning into seconds on screen that shape the ending more than one might think.
Life of Pi isn’t my favorite movie I saw this past year, but it might be one of the best. It’s storytelling at its finest, crafting an original tale of survival and faith without being preachy. It’s an experience that was well worth two hours, and who would have thought that one of the most emotional stories I’ve been told this year would come from a castaway boy and his Bengal tiger?
(4-1/2 out of 5 Stars)