Coming of Age/IMAX Spectacle
Life of Pi has long been called a story that will make you believe in God. When you read such a story about a young Hindu-born boy named after a French swimming pool who grew up in a zoo who gets lost out at sea with the convincing CGI creations of a hyena, an orangutan, a zebra, and a menacing tiger named “Richard Parker,” it would certainly test what you believe.
This particular sort of story based on Yann Martel’s 2001 novel is one of unbelief, both in the story itself and the way it is told. We the viewers are watching this story as told by a grown-up Pi’s recollection from his past to a curious author. We all know that the things we see on screen are made up and manipulated, so how can we ever tell when the things on screen are the truth?
In that same way, Pi’s story is as beautifully inspiring as it is hard to believe.
As a child, he wins over his entire Pondicherry school by endlessly naming by memory countless digits of pi. Then he learns about the gods worshipped by his family, but not without some extra encounters with Christ: one in the Catholic Church and one in a Muslim temple. He decides that each of these religions will bring him closer to God, but a much harder to believe test comes his way that makes him question everything.
At the last minute, his family decides to sell their zoo and move to Canada, taking the animals with them. While on the ship over the Pacific, a storm overrides the ship, sinking all living things aboard; everything except Pi, a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and Richard Parker the tiger, who are all cramped together onto a small lifeboat.
Pretty soon nature plays its game, and the dominate predator wipes the animals out until just the boy and the tiger are left. But Pi won’t give up hope: he accepts God’s ordeal for his life and goes through compelling methods of survival, as seen through a parade of spectacular sights that no one in their life would ever otherwise hope to see.
A humpback whale breaches among luminescent jellyfish, thousands of flying fish break the rules of aspect ratio and 3D viewing, and lightning strikes the water during a storm. Each of these events comparable to descriptions within the Old Testament exploits its fresh color palette to paint Pi’s inner journey toward faith and survival, as if living out in God’s natural creations is more worthwhile than living in the business of urban culture. Director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) is a true ringmaster of the big screen, which has got me particularly excited for his next big feature, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.
In fact, I would just skip the entire first act and fast forward straight to the part where he is out at sea. In full honesty, the segments of Pi in his Indian home is rich with culture, but because of the shallowness of everyone else in his life: Mom, Dad, brother, and love interest, I feel a bit distanced from what is supposed to add context to everything at sea.
But otherwise, it’s hard to talk down at Life of Pi for its arrangement of events that address the proper questions in the appropriate timing; it helps to make Pi’s relationship with his tiger companion all the more believable, and enough to make you believe this story could actually be true.
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Fox Star India. Life Of Pi - Official Trailer. Digital image. YouTube, 25 Jul 2012. Web. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9Hjrs6WQ8M>.
Life of Pi. Publisher. 20th Century Fox. <http://www.lifeofpimovie.com/>.
MovieClips Trailers. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk Official Teaser Trailer #1 (2016) - Vin Diesel Movie HD. Video. YouTube, 12 May 2016. Web. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9Hjrs6WQ8M>.