Ang Lee’s filmic interpretation of Yann Martel’s wildly successful book Life of Pi is unapologetically fanciful, visually stunning, intellectually valuable, and it is undeniably a great work of art.
The movie opens with a series of tableaus of a beautiful Indian zoo, these opening images already give us a sense of the aesthetic playfulness and skillful cinematography that are characteristic of the film. The wonderful impression that this movie’s visuals left me with is practically unmatched by any other movie I have seen. This partnered with computer generated imaging and visual effects that are worthy of an award makes for a visual masterpiece.
Life of Pi presents the protagonist, Pi, as a middle-aged man telling his story to an intrigued Canadian novelist looking for a subject, and he indeed finds a fascinating story in Pi’s life. Pi begins by explaining his childhood in India, providing a charming backdrop to his life. He continues to tell us of “his greatest journey” in which he is shipwrecked and trapped on a small lifeboat with only a fierce Bengal tiger for company. Pi’s story is truly an emotional, intellectual, and spiritual journey for the viewer, and possesses value even without its captivating presentation.
The acting throughout the movie is impeccable. Middle-aged Pi is played simply yet engagingly by Irrfan Khan, and teenaged Pi played by Suraj Sharma is also wonderfully cast, showing Pi’s emotional development very well.
One of the most important themes, as well as one of the things that gives the story it’s intellectual intrigue is Pi’s take on religion. As a young boy, Pi was fascinated with religion. He was raised Hindu by his mother, however his father was not very religious at all. At a young age Pi adopted Christianity, while also continuing his belief in Hinduism; he continued to study the kabbalah as well as practicing Islam. Pi’s all-inclusive, unprejudiced approach to religion is summed up in his mantra that “faith is a house of many rooms.” When the Canadian man to whom Pi tells this confronts him, asking him if there is “no room for doubt,” Pi responds by saying that there is one on every floor. However, Pi’s approach to the concept of faith is sometimes frustrating in it’s unquestioning idealism. From what we see it sometimes seems that Pi is not attempting to collect his personal beliefs and discover the best of what religion has to offer but that he is trying on different religions like different outfits, not approaching them with enough thought or doing so seriously enough. Despite this, the way Pi approaches faith does something amazing: it offers a valuable lesson, one that is taught often, in a fresh new way. It tells us to be open-minded. This concept is particularly valuable in this day and age when religion is so often a barrier and source of conflict between people. Pi offers a model that we should all seek to follow, that of a personal and accepting approach to not only one’s own beliefs, but also to those of others.
Life of Pi offers valuable lessons as well as emotional and spiritual complexity while also wowing us visually through action, tension, and suspense-packed scenes at every turn. This is a balance that is very hard to hit and is something that can rarely be attributed to a movie, which makes the film indeed worthy of very high praise. Altogether Life of Pi is an amazing achievement of acting, direction, and cinematography that touches on, in a relatively short two hours, such complex issues as faith, friendship, and fantasy.