AFI Festival: America has long celebrated films of great adventures and beautiful new worlds in fantastical stories, so it is little surprise that Ang Lee’s Life of Pi (2012) was a major success. To book end the story, the film is about a writer who asks Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel about his life story. Recommended by a dear friend of Pi’s, the writer listens and spends the day with Pi, unable to leave or drop the story. (Spoilers!!) Pi spends the day talking to the writer about how he grew up, self-introduced himself as Pi, and then, became the sole human survivor of a shipwreck in the Pacific Ocean, along with an orangutan, zebra, hyena, and a Bengal tiger named Richard Park. Relying on the lessons his father had always taught him, Pi learns the skills to survive and the heavy lessons that go with it. There are ups and downs that he and Richard Park much endure to survive. An unspoken friendship is created, thus leading to a bitter parting on the shores of Mexico.
Even before the movie began, Ang Lee appeared on the screen, giving a message about being delighted about the evenings screening of the completed finalized version of the film despite being unable to be there due to promoting the film. After almost 4 years of adapting the book into a film and spending time with an actor and a bengal tiger on the ocean, he expressed his thankfulness to the film’s completion, it being the most challenging film he had created thus far in his career. “This is a movie about faith. This is a move about the power of story telling.”
Of all the places in the world, India is known for being of the most exotic and vibrant, both beautiful and dangerous. From the beginning until the end of Pi’s life in India, he proved to be a young man, filled with potential, and hope for things to come. But when he loses his family in a shipwreck, being forced to confront his future alone scares him. The story, at times, is funny as he experiments with how he could best survive alongside a predatory tiger. Filled with unknown natural events, every time Pi thinks he is ahead of the game, nature would counter with something that would devastate him. Logical and thoughtful, Pi would be forced to rethink his methods of staying alive. The fascination and friendship between Pi and Richard Park starts from the beginning, and ends with both returning to their separate worlds. Having thought of Richard Park as the reason he would work so hard to survive, Pi discovered other sides to him he had never thought existed.
Shot beautifully, filled with frames of wonder and serenity, the style visually matches the feel of what most of the epic movies use visual effects for. Stretching his creative abilities to the thinnest, especially when most of the movie happens on the ocean in the middle of nowhere, Ang Lee’s story telling is flawless and angles are beautiful. Suraj Sharma’s performance is wonderful, able to be both comical and serious, as is Pi’s affection towards the tiger. And Irrfan Khan’s portrayal of the older Pi, the wiser who survived such an experience, was very precise and drew audiences into his story.
When Pi sat on his raft and Richard Park in the boat peacefully, and the waters around them were still, I found that to be a most beautiful and magnetic sight. Several angles led me to question how Lee shot it all. The idea that he could have created such detailed models blew me away. Perhaps a mini-model of the ship in the storm, at the bottom of the ocean, and the entire deadly island, but the natural light available were beautifully used, especially during sunrise and sunset. As though each angle had been picked out to express a specific side of the story, sometimes the audience felt Pi’s fear of the tiger, especially when the tiger snarled and jumped in 3D; other times, the audience felt Pi’s sadness when the shots were intimate and sweet, like when Pi apologized to the tiger about them dying, and held the tiger’s head in his lap, an intimate act between friends or lovers to show endearment and companionship. Lee brought Yann Martel’s book to life and put acts that transcends cultures and traditions on the screen, pulling together a beautifully woven story about faith and storytelling, as Lee had intended it to.
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