Rarely do I read books before seeing the film as inevitably the book will ruin the movie experience because of the unfair expectations. However, about five years ago a friend recommended this novel by Yann Martel about a fifteen-year old boy stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger titled LIFE OF PI. Incidentally, the book immediately became one of my favorites. I hope audiences are as awe struck and spiritually moved as I was from the book when they watch visionary director Ang Lee’s beautiful interpretation on the big screen.
Piscine Molitor (played surprisingly well by newcomer Suraj Sharma) is a boy growing up as a zookeepers son in India with his mother, father and older brother. Piscine, like many kids, was the victim of heavy ridicule and teasing due to his name sounding so similar to an undesirable word that has to do with urinating. Piscine concocted a plan to switch his name to Pi after the never-ending mathematical number which Pi memorized further than humanly possible. Pi establishes himself as a problem solver yearning for answers as he begins to study and be influenced by many religions from Hindu to Christianity. He has no prejudice towards another and when he becomes a Christian he thanks the Hindu deity Krishna for allowing him to find Jesus Christ.
Due to financial difficulties, the family must close the zoo and sell their animals. Setting sail on a Japanese cargo ship toward Canada, Pi’s family and their animals must leave their home in India. But a terrible incident occurs one stormy evening and the ship goes down. Among the chaos, Pi survives the night escaping on a lifeboat with a dangerous full grown Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Now Pi must survive the sea while cohabiting with a Bengal tiger.
Encountering philosophy, religion, family and love, the early moments in the film establish the character wonderfully. As the journey progresses so must Pi in his maturity. first Pi has to leave his love, leave his home and lose his family. Life becomes survival. Out of fear, his motivation to live is to care for this giant beast. Growing up in a zoo, Pi’s knowledge of animals comes in handy. With the few tools left on the boat, Pi sets boundaries by conditioning the animal. Separating himself with a self-built floating device tied to the life boat and establishing dominance by using a whistle to keep Richard Parker at bay, Pi catches enough fish and rain water to supply the both of them. His perseverance and will is only maintained by his faith in God. Every need is met to sustain survival and Pi’s knowledge of philosophy and religion leads him on a spiritual journey where the application of faith becomes wisdom and deliverance.
I don’t mean to get caught up explaining the story and interpreting my own beliefs, but what Pi achieves literally and figuratively is fascinating. Every moment has a deeper meaning paralleling faith and human spirit. Without even getting to the visuals, these positive notes are simply within the story and themes that I believe are open to personal interpretations. The symbolism and poetry exudes fully on screen with a magnificent color pallet. The cinematography is absolutely breathtaking as LIFE OF PI creates a dangerous yet heavenly world showing seclusion but with the constant presence of God. I’m not one to get behind the excessive use of CGI but this is among the best I’ve seen and the 3D brings the film to majestic heights.
Ang Lee masterfully weaves through the story highlighting important moments yet still providing plenty of information to develop the characters and themes. Doubt and truth are both challenged and the details to the overall film make all the difference. A dying zebra and lonely orangutang may even make you cry but within the sadness there is still hope. Intense, peaceful and even scary at times, LIFE OF PI is an emotional and spiritually charged adventure.