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With: Irrfan Khan, Suraj Sharma, Gérard Depardieu, Rafe Spall, Tabu, Adil Hussain, Shravanthi Sainath, Andrea Di Stefano, Ayush Tandon, Gautam Belur, Vibish Sivakumar, Ayan Khan
Written by: David Magee, based on a novel by Yann Martel
Directed by: Ang Lee
MPAA Rating: PG for emotional thematic content throughout, and some scary action sequences and peril
Running Time: 127
Date: 09/28/2012
IMDB

Life of Pi (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Tiger by the Tale

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

First let me say that I'm not easily impressed by a film's visuals if there's nothing else there to back it up (see Avatar and Cloud Atlas). I'm also not big fan of 3D, and I have never been one of Ang Lee's strongest supporters. So it doesn't come easy for me to say that Lee's new Life of Pi absolutely dazzled me. I sat there in the dark, and my jaw dropped. I was "visually stunned," if you will.

Based on the novel by Yann Martel, the bulk of Life of Pi takes place on a lifeboat, stranded in the middle of the ocean. The boat's occupants are a young man named Pi (Suraj Sharma) and a Bengal tiger named "Richard Parker" (due to a paperwork error). Though much of this sequence comes to us through computer magic, it captures a truly intense feeling of the ocean's space, movement, weight, and temperature. You may find yourself holding your breath as the waves lap over your head.

The movie's poster and its main production still depicts Pi and Richard Parker sharing the big lifeboat, but what in fact happens is that Pi builds a secondary raft out of life jackets and floor planks, which is tied to the main boat, and where he spends his time. Richard Parker may be beautiful, but he's also hungry.

My favorite sequence probably doesn't have anything to do with anything, but it's just awesome. At night, Pi begins playing with glowing plankton, stirring the water and making the lights dance. The water is astoundingly clear, and through the fathoms, Pi can see something moving below. It comes closer, and it's soon clear what it is: a whale. The whale breaks the surface of the water, leaping into the sky, displacing thousands of gallons and sending Pi scrambling. Describing this moment is pointless, but you can feel it.

Life of Pi has many themes running through it. In the prologue, we learn that Pi -- who chooses to shorten his name because it sounds too much like "pissing" -- has been raised in a zoo, which his father owns. The zoo has now been sold and the family must travel to Canada by ship (which is how Pi ends up in the ocean). We also learn that Pi has become fascinated with various religions and has decided to embrace many of them at once. This also leads to a fascination with Richard Parker, whom Pi tries to feed by hand one day. His father tells him that the tiger is not his friend, and it will eat him. Does the tiger have a soul? Is there a connection between it and humans? Where does God fit into the puzzle?

Moreover, this entire story is narrated by the adult Pi (Irrfan Khan) to a writer (Rafe Spall), providing yet another perspective, which I won't explain here.

Lee's films are usually met with polite applause and are generally considered for Oscars, and thus they tend to be slow and weighty and long. He's good with themes, and performances and sometimes images, and he's certainly a humanist, but he still doesn't quite have a touch for pacing, or good old-fashioned storytelling. For all its beauties, Life of Pi also has a lot of hunger and suffering, and it's no fun to watch that stuff without some kind of balance.

Regardless, Life of Pi has moments that I'll remember for a long time to come, and I'm glad I saw it.

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