An adaptation of the book by Yann Martel, it is one of those stories that has been considered unfilmable since its release in 2001. Its long gestating journey to the screen saw many directors come and go (Jean-Pierre Jeunet being the passer by I would have most liked to see), but the film settling in Ang Lee’s hands now seems like an almost perfect fit.
Telling the story of a teenage boy’s harrowing experience of being lost at sea with no other company than a large and hungry bengal tiger seems to be a rather simple and ridiculous story, but the relationship between Pi and the tiger grows and changes, creating a fantastical character study that will pin you to your seat.
Lauren: I’d always heard great praise for the book, and after seeing the film I can understand why so many hold it so dear. It is a story of survival and compassion as these two come to terms with being forced into the company of each other above the constantly changing ocean, following an unmissable shipwreck that is worth the price of admission alone, to steal a phrase Zac often uses. Lee really does have a knack for the jaw dropping imagery throughout the course of this film, and I will also say that as beautiful as it was, these were often the moments in which it was hardest for me to remain immersed in the story. Did they really have to light up the ocean with blacklights two different times? And I doubt when I look into the depths of the ocean I will see a kaleidoscope of animals. It was hard for me to hold onto the truth of the story when what started out rooted in reality quickly begins the process of weaving in fantastical, fairy tale elements. However, by film’s end this biggest weakness in my eyes also becomes one of its biggest attributes when looking back on it with a new perspective, allowing me to find a new appreciation for the story told.
Zac: I think the film’s ending reveal makes the fantastical elements of the film work, but more on that would be spoiler. I found myself constantly on the edge of my seat, gripped with dread and hope that our heroes would endure. I had no problem connecting and staying there through it all, and I think the journey keeps the drama and thrills coming.
If the story does bore you a bit, the technical aspects of the film are so impeccable and I never doubted the world Lee has created. Incredible CGI, immersive 3D, gorgeous cinematography and a palpable sense of danger that had me holding my breath throughout the picture helps Lee make this tale believable. They create a window into a world that is almost unimaginable and they fill it with emotion and wonder that constantly left this viewer in awe.
Lauren: Agreed. I don’t know how they did it in terms of CGI animals vs. real animals, but the transition between the two is never noticeable in these beautifully rendered worlds. The artistry within this film is unmatched, and Lee even manages to make the ocean an ever changing entity that is just as exciting as a numerous set film, but it’s all about those animals in the end that are just as real to me as the boy in the boat, equally as worthy of my tears when those moments arise. And they do.
Because of this I feel like there should be a need for a disclaimer, especially surrounding the boat sinking and the handful of minutes to follow. Knowing that this ark is going down is one thing, but it is so real that even I got choked up just thinking about the animals on board, not to mention those that make it to the lifeboat. That’s right, there wasn’t always just a boy and his tiger, so consider this when bringing your children with you.
Zac: The film certainly packs an emotional wallop and I am sure it is going to catch a number of viewers off guard. Another aspect not being terribly advertised in the marketing for this film is the religious overtones surrounding the film. As someone who isn’t a faith based person the film’s religious message is never preachy and actually rather inclusive. I love the fact that Pi is such a religious polygamist, and the film is a celebration of the good things about religion and the beauty that can be inherent in them.
Last, but not least, Suraj Sharma deserves a lot of credit for being able to come into his first film role and command the screen on his own for most of the film’s runtime. Sharma has the amazing effects artists at Rhythm & Hues to help lighten the load with their work on his feline friend, Richard Parker, but if Sharma showed any weakness at all the film would dull and fall apart. He doesn’t, and you will believe his struggle and journey of survival without hesitation.
Life of Pi is an often magical film and an incredible journey that you can only have on the big screen. The 3D is top notch, the effects are some of the best ever, but more importantly the story is rich and full of heart and emotion. Pi’s journey is a sight to be seen and Ang Lee’s latest should not be missed in the theaters this holiday season.
Lauren: Just don’t forget the tissues.