Movie Review: Life Of Pi

Ang Lee transports a modern-day literary classic to the screen seamlessly

Sharin Bhatti November 26, 2021
  • Direction
  • Cinematography
  • Acting
  • Storyline
  • Film adaptation from novel

A lot can change in six months. Relationships can run their full course, countries can rise and fall, life and death can exchange hands… In avant garde director Ang Lee’s world, that’s the time it took him to make a decision that could potentially change his life. He chose to bring “Life of Pi” to the screen.

The 2001 best-selling novel by Yann Martel, “Life of Pi” has been lauded for many reasons: its rich visual imagery, its gripping storyline, its ironic sense of humour: But above all, it champions the undying human spirit. The film adaptation of “Life of Pi” is that story and its decade-long struggle to find the ideal filmmakers to transport it from word to visual is testimony to that incredible feat.

“Life Of Pi” is a story of a shipwreck-orphaned, cast away 17-year old who spends months lost at sea in a fully-stocked lifeboat with a starving savage, a Bengal Tiger interestingly named Richard Parker, for company. Narrated in a flashback by an emotive protagonist Irrfan Khan, the acting onus lies on the amateur shoulders of newcomer Suraj Sharma, who portrays his lost-at-sea counterpart: a “skinny, vegetarian Indian boy.” What ensues is a two-hour explosion of colour and magnificent visual imagery of Piscine (the protagonist) and Parker’s adventure and discovery while they make the most of their time at sea, trying to survive and keeping a somewhat calm mind.

Directory of photography Claudio Miranda creates stunning visuals that form the backdrop of Parker and Pi’s journey. If there is such a thing as virtual reality, then Lee and Miranda create the perfect alternate universe. The storyline plays on the emotions of the viewer when both Pi and Parker’s visual senses see the sky and the ocean as one. The horizon has been attained and that is emotively conveyed to the viewer when the boat begins to appear as if it could be suspended in space, during night and day. The creatures of the ocean come alive to both Pi and Parker as their existence hangs in the balance of delusion and reality.  They begin to share the same fantasies and the tiger becomes more human, even as Pi becomes more animal. The shift in characterization is handled with immense sensitivity, as if it were evolution, by Lee who previously showed us a similar transition in “Brokeback Mountain.”

Even though Khan directs the viewer to his 17-year-old insights, it is really Sharma who brings Pi’s transformation to life. The young actor was cast for his debut movie by Lee and went through rigorous physical training in yoga and ocean survival before they began shooting. You see that transformation on screen when his gaunt, hunched figure becomes upright, muscular and lithe in movement.  Khan does add that subtle, sorry, common-Indian-man sentiment when with tears casually flowing down his cheeks, he mourns never having the opportunity to say goodbye to his loved ones. It’s in this nonchalant portrayal of a state of utter turmoil, that makes “Life Of Pi” such an incredible story. And Lee such an incredible director.