Saturday, December 8, 2012

Date Night Movie Review - Life of Pi

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Atala - I had read the book of the same name by Yann Martell many years ago, and I remember enjoying the first half of the book, while feeling the second half lacked the same compelling narrative. Still, I remembered so little of the story that I felt that there was nothing to be lost by going again to see the movie. Perhaps Hollywood would work some magic to make the story more palatable.

As it turned out, the film follows the novel quite closely. It's primarily about a Piscine "Pi" Patel, young man who is shipwrecked while he and his family are sailing from India to Canada with a collection of animals from the zoo that they owned in India, with the events narrated by Pi (now grown up) to a writer.

It starts with a very tender and sometimes amusing description of his life in India, and goes on to describe how, when the ship is wrecked, he is the only human survivor, as every one else perishes in the sea. Well, yes - Pi is the only human survivor, but not the only survivor. Floating along with him in his lifeboat are a hyena, an orangutan - and arguably the deuteragonist of the story, a Bengal tiger with improbable name of Richard Parker.

The core of the movie focuses on the relationship between him and the tiger as they struggle to survive while drifting across the Pacific Ocean. I liked that the relationship was realistically portrayed, and that there were moments of tension and conflict between man and tiger that kept me wondering what would happen next.

I also liked the beautiful cinematography in the film. In one moment, I was caught up in the drama of a ship capsizing and feeling the terror of Pi as he struggled to keep afloat. In the next, I was entranced watching Pi and Richard Parker floating serenely against the backdrop of gorgeous oceanic scenery. At points in the film, it felt like I was watching an extraordinarily vivid nature documentary, because apart from the dramatic scenes between the animals in the boat, there were many rich scenes of marine life.

The film also aspired to explore philosophical questions, as Pi constantly reflected on how his predicament strengthened his faith in God, but I don't think that this was very well done. This was reflected in the ending which was deliberately ambiguous; however, I think the ambiguity was unnecessary.

Myne - I've heard about the book behind this movie but never read, it sounded too literary and theme driven for me. Even the fantasy aspect did not sway me. But seeing the previews did get my attention. Now, I was grabbed by the amazing cinematography and by the stripped down story, free from any agendas. Not that the filmmakers could escape it completely, the movie is based on the book after all.

There is Pi and his faith in his different gods. As a boy, Pi picked up several faiths including Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. He struggles as his days on the open sea continued and he's never rescued but he never loses hope. I have to say that the treatment of the faith aspect of the story felt scattershot, the gaps were just too glaring. One question stayed with me though - what is faith if there is no doubt? Pi has doubt and fear in spades, but he never loses his faith. He perseveres and in the end he triumphs when he makes land.

Some scenes with the boy and the Bengal tiger lost in the middle of the ocean were simply astonishing - visually, they blew you away, and emotionally, they grabbed you and dragged you in. Paintings of the sun and the sky reflected off a glass-like waters, or the night stars shining again in the ocean - you quickly got the sense that the life boat and each other were the only anchors these two had.

Watching this movie was quite an experience. Life of Pi was colorful, it made you think, and it educated you.

Five out of five stars.

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