Nov. 28, 2012 - Issue #893-Krampus Christmas
Life of Pi
For a film so serious about storytelling, Ang Lee's Life of Pi (adapted from Yann Martel's bestseller) takes some time to find its flow. The preamble is a bit of an amble, a shuffling between present-day Montréal, where Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan) is reminiscing to a writer (Rafe Spall), and past Pondicherry, where the young Pi (Suraj Sharma) juggles Hinduism, Catholicism and Islam, falls in love with a girl, but then sails away from political strife, headed for Winnipeg with his family and their zookeeper-father's menagerie of animals.
After the boat sinks on storm-wracked seas, dramatic tension and visual splendor settle in at last. A tiger named Richard Parker paces the lifeboat and Pi must try to train him if they're to survive. Their commonality becomes touching—both creatures were raised by the same man but are now orphans, their suspicion and fear of each other keeping them alive. One night, the blue glow of krill brings a whale lunging out of the Pacific's depths; flying fish arrow over the boat; Pi stares down into the dark ocean of his grief; an island of carnivorous algae almost proves Pi's final resting-ground, not a haven. But the CGI-tiger is the greatest marvel here—the intensity of its stare alone makes it the truest fiction of all.
Because for all the story's talk of religious belief, of doubt only nurturing devotion, of the God-proving holiness of story, even of finding a kind of Darwinian divinity in nature, the story's constant talk remains unconvincing. Religious platitudes remain fairly pat; the final allegory's overstated, not trusting us to make the leap of faith. It's the images—especially the beautiful ferocity of that pacing tiger—that remain. Blake's short poem, with its wonder at the creation of such a carnivore, burns brighter than this magic-realist hybrid of animal fable and allegory. Because, after all's accounted for in Life of Pi, just the sight of that elusive, mysterious, magical creature says as much or more about the sublimely spiritual than the over-elaborated story around it does.
Directed by: Ang Lee
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