Life of Pi

Dir: Ang Lee

Stars: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan and Rafe Spall

When I finished reading Yann Martel’s Booker Prize winning novel, Life of Pi, I remember being impressed with the writing and magical realism, but also frustrated by the religious overtones and the final third. I also remember thinking that it could never be made into a film. Not only has Ang Lee gone and proved me wrong, he’s exceeded all expectations, producing a film which is both visually and technically impressive.

Piscnine Molitor Patel (Pi) is a teenage boy living in Pondicherry in French Colonial India. His father owns the town zoo, but when Indian independence and political change force the family to leave India, his life is irrevocably changed. The family, taking most of the animals with them, find themselves in the middle of a storm at sea on the way to Canada. After the ship sinks, Pi finds himself adrift on a lifeboat with only a Bengal Tiger, Richard Parker, for company.
The film opens with the now middle-aged Pi (Khan) recounting his story to a young writer (Spall). The story starts in Pondicherry as we follow the young Pi (Sharma) growing up, and ends with him being questioned by investigators from the Japanese shipping company trying to discover why the tragedy happened. The two accounts he gives them are likely to be the most contentious points of the film, and Lee has made a conscious decision to make Life of Pi child-friendly.

Visually it is breathtaking. The rendering of Richard Parker is truly staggering; if you told me a real tiger could be perfectly trained, I could easily believe that I was seeing it on screen. Some of the segments of magical realism are jaw-droppingly well done, whilst a few fly wide of the mark. The section on the lifeboat is remarkable film making and a whole raft of technical awards are likely to follow. Unfortunately, when Pi reaches dry land, the film seems to lose its way badly. However, for me, the film is at its most beautiful in the opening third when it dwells on the bountiful colours of South Eastern India.

If you loved the book then it is likely that you will also love the film. However, if you had problems with the source material they will probably be apparent here too, as while it is a remarkable piece of film making, it doesn’t quite work as a whole.

See it in glorious 2D at http://www.showroomworkstation.org.uk/lifeofpi