Saturday, January 12, 2013

Life of Pi Review

Life of Pi is one of the most visually impressive films of the year.  It is also one of the most touching, impactful films of the year.  What’s funny is that going into my screening I was staunchly skeptical about what I was getting myself into.  The trailers did virtually nothing for me; all I knew about the film was that Pi is stranded on a lifeboat with a tiger and that the film was steeped in religious overtones.  At least that’s what I thought.

Pi is much more than that.  Yes, at its core the film is about a young man, Pi, who is stranded in a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean, with only a hungry Bengal tiger as company.  His family was traveling to North America to sell the animals from their family-owned zoo when a massive storm hits the cargo ship.  In a fantastically-staged and immensely gripping scene the ship sinks, taking almost its entire compliment with it – Pi’s family included.  The first post-sinking moments are enthralling and terrifying; Pi is heaved about in the turbulent ocean, and in one of my favorite shots of the year he’s pushed under water and we get to see the chilling image of the cargo ship slowly descending to the ocean floor.  Pi is left devoid of any human companions for the duration of the film and his journey.  What follows are many scenes depicting events both beneficial and detrimental to our protagonist (i.e. catching a fish, dodging a tiger attack).  Every moment has a purpose and advances our characters (yes, the tiger, Richard Parker, is a main character) and their relationship.  Richard Parker deserves a “Best Supporting Actor” nod at the Academy this year.

The film is book-ended with the adult Pi talking to a novelist about his story and what he and his family went through.  On the whole, these sections are weaker than the actual journey itself but they are wholly required; Pi is narrating most of the adventure, save for a large swath in the middle of the film.  Not having his voice present in the middle hour or so was fine, but when the voice-over returned it felt a bit jarring.  I had actually forgotten about the modern-day aspect to the film, which is probably a good thing.  I was drawn in and immersed in Pi’s struggle for life on the Pacific Ocean.

I was concerned about the religious overtones I had heard about in the film, but in all honestly nothing bothered me whatsoever.  Yes, there are themes of believing in God and having faith that He will guide us (Pi), but they aren’t being shoved down our throats – and I appreciate that.  Pi is the sort of film with many layers of meaning, some hidden and some apparent.  I’m sure that every person will take from this film what they wish.  The message that I got from Pi is that of faith; and not necessarily from any one god.  Belief can be a powerful tool, whether you’re stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean, or listening to a tall tale from a stranger.  At the end of the film, adult Pi gives an alternate version of the events we just saw transpire…a version that’s quite a bit grimmer.  He asks the writer (Rafe Spall) which story he prefers, and in a way he’s asking us as well.  It’s up to us, the audience, to determine which version we think is true and which we’d like to be true.  Both have the same outcome, but much different journeys.

Life of Pi is a beautiful, incredibly entertaining, and an emotionally moving film that hits it out of the park on every level.  I really don’t like being wrong about anything, and I must wholly admit that my disdain for and apprehension to Life of Pi was utterly unfounded and just plain wrong.  Pi is sure to be nominated for and win plenty of awards this season, and deservedly so. 

Life of Pi is a visually-stunning and intensely-gripping drama about faith and survival in the face of death.

The Bearded Bullet.

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