Title: Life of Pi (2012)
Director: Ang Lee
Cast: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Tabu, Rafe Spall
So Life of Pi is an event flick: a wonder of the imagination, a celebration of film, escapist entertainment of the highest caliber; if only it wasn’t so preachy! I went into this movie pretty much not knowing what it was about. I’d seen the previews with the flying fish sequence, and it looked to me like it was going to be a surreal, visual spectacle (which it ended up being every step of the way) but I had no idea what the book the film is based on was about, or the themes that the film was going to be addressing. I went into Life of Pi pretty much blind. But the previews displayed qualities of a top notch production at the hands of a gifted director, so I went in expecting to see something really amazing, and it was amazing in many ways and not so amazing in others.
Life of Pi tells the story of one Pi Patel, a little Indian kid who is brought up by his mother and father, who by the way run a zoo. One day, as the family embarks on a life changing journey to Canada, a huge storm breaks out in the middle of the ocean and the boat, with mother and father and all the animals from the zoo go down into the ocean. Pi barely survives by escaping in one of the lifeboats. He manages to stay afloat on the boat, along with a hungry, defiant tiger, an injured zebra, an orangutan, a rat and a hyena. How long will Pi survive out in the vast ocean before he dies? Will he make it?
Life of Pi reminded me of a couple of movies. First off, it reminded me of Interview with the Vampire (1994) because it has this premise of a writer, listening to someone tell a story so they can then write a novel, or an article. So the film unfolds as a man interviews Pi, who very willingly tells the writer his story; a story that will supposedly make anyone who hears it “believe in God”. As the adult Pi tells his tale, we get to see Pi through various stages in his life, key defining moments that shape Pi into the man he will become. I loved the character of Pi, he comes off as very defiant of life, he isn’t afraid of anything, he willingly goes out and looks at a storm square in the eye and asks for “more”. To him life is fun, vibrant, joyful and wondrous, something to be experienced and cherished. I loved how the young Pi is portrayed as someone so curious and full of life. The character of Pi is one of the best things about the film, we can identify with Pi because he asks the same questions we ask. He isn’t afraid to question god and his existence.
And here’s where the movie took me completely off guard! I wasn’t expecting Life of Pi to be a film about religion at all! Now, this being one of my favorite themes, I was even more engaged in the film then I thought I would be. Suddenly, this was a film about Pi challenging God, to see if he was really there, to see if he would answer back. The existence of God is one of the biggest questions anyone could face in life. Is he real? Does he even know how much we suffer down here? If he is so powerful, why doesn’t he do something about all the bad things that happen? Why doesn’t he show himself? I loved how inquisitive young Pi is, because I myself always asked these questions, and I would always get the shaft from adults, because let’s face it, not many adults know how to define God, can’t say I blame them. Personally, I think that if there is such a thing as god, then it is probably something bigger and more powerful then anything we can imagine. But I don’t know if there is a god, because I’ve never seen him or heard him. The only thing that comes close to being Godlike for me is the universe and everything in it, which is one viewpoint displayed in the film. At one point a giant lightning bolt hits the middle of the ocean and Pi thinks he is seeing god and that it’s amazing. I was right there with Pi, believing in the majestic, awesomeness of nature. Now there’s something worth praising!
So anyhow, be ready for a film that questions the existence of god, and tries to define why we should believe in him, which to be honest is what I didn’t like about the film. The film starts out with a believer trying to get an unbeliever to believe. I don’t mind films that address the idea of God, in fact, I often times find them fascinating. What I do hate is when films of this nature try to give a definitive answer to a question whose answer is elusive and inconclusive at best. I mean, when it comes to God, all we can really come down to are ideas, a hypothesis, a proposal of what it could be, but what the ultimate creator of all things is, let’s be honest, nobody really knows. It’s one of the biggest mysteries in life. Sadly, there comes a point in Life of Pi where you feel as if the film is preaching to you about believing, and honestly, I don’t like films that propagate the idea of believing in fairy tales. I like watching fairy tales and fantasy films for their escapist nature and for entertainment, but I would never believe these films to be true. Because they are fantasies, unreal by nature.
What this film asks us to do is believe in God because it’s a far prettier perspective on life then the sad, dark truths that unbelievers have to offer. The film is right though, being an unbeliever offers a bleaker outlook on life, they don’t believe in a beautiful afterlife where you will meet all your loved ones that have died. They don’t believe in magical invisible beings that watch over you. Unbelievers usually side with logic and science, things that are tangible, things that can be proved, tried and tested. And though this is a more realistic outlook on life, some rather believe in the fairy tales that religions have to offer, however faceless and ephemeral they may be. In the end, we all choose how we are going to look at life. Each man is an island; we all see the world the way we want to, if you feel better going through life believing in fantastical beings watching over you, then more power to you. I just didn’t agree with the idea that Life of Pi is trying to propagate: that simply because the idea of God is a “prettier idea” that it is immediately a better option. I’m sorry but no. If you were to tell me that you suddenly want to believe in Hobbits, because you thought they were cute, I’d give you a good wakeup call and tell you to try and live in the real world. Would you rather see life through the spectrum of reality, or through the looking glass of an elaborate fantasy? If you ask the filmmakers behind Life of Pi, the pretty lie is better.
In the end, I really enjoyed the visual aspects of Life of Pi, the film was an amazing trip, it offers one amazing vista after another, the visual wonders never cease with Life of Pi. Technically speaking I am sure that Life of Pi will win the best visual effects Oscar, no doubts about it. This is a surreal masterpiece, it felt something akin to a Tarsem Singh film, like The Fall (2006) for example. Life of Pi is escapist, visual eye candy. The colors leap off the screen; the computer generated images are top notch. Just the fact that almost all of the animals depicted on the silver screen are computer generated says something about the achievements of the film. The computer generated animals look amazingly realistic. When compared to something like Jumanji (1995), yet another film filled with CGI animals, Jumanji feels like a dinosaur in terms of realism achieved through computer generated imagery. As for the the 3-D in Life of Pi, it’s great, fish seem to leap off the screen and onto the theater! For these reasons, Life of Pi is definitely worth a visit to theaters, just watch out for all the preaching that leaps off the screen as well.
Rating: 4 out of 5