I didn’t know much about Life of Pi going into it, and I think that might be the best way to view it. So you can take my advice and stop reading right here, or, if you’re more of the skeptical type, requiring reason and logic to support such fantastic claims (such as a 5-Pulse rating), by all means, continue reading and allow me the chance to convince you to believe in Life of Pi.
What I did know about this marvelous movie wasn’t anything impressive. It is an adaptation of a critically acclaimed novel (more often a negative than a positive), it is directed by Ang Lee (a director with a penchant for attempting to create wondrous beauty while only achieving grandiose sentimentality), and the majority of it takes place on a life raft with a man and tiger (sounds like a short movie). All these variables could have resulted in what very well ought to be a mediocre inspirational family film.
For example, the film follows the eponymous Pi much like Forrest Gump follows its hero, from a unique and awkward child whose family owns a zoo, to his teen years partially stranded in the middle of the Pacific on a life boat with a large carnivorous cat, to his adult years recalling his life to a young author in search of a good story. And, like another Tom Hanks film, Pi is a castaway on the world’s smallest floating island.
But unlike these Hanks/Zemeckis schmaltz-fests, Life of Pi manages to be both fantastical and restrained. Where other directors would throw in a shark-attack action sequence, Lee uses them as the ever-present reminder of the dangerous and alien world Pi is thrown into. Life of Pi doesn’t exclude any of the traditional story elements that make great stories, but it does use them in traditionally unHollywood ways. Don’t expect anyone to find Pi’s message in a bottle.
For a castaway story, the film hits the genre signposts and then takes the less obvious routes. It’s the performances and cinematography that really sell this approach. Irrfan Khan embodies the adult Pi recounting his extraordinary experiences, and newcomer Suraj Sharma completely captures teenage Pi’s inextinguishable spirit. Visually, Life of Pi blows everything else out of the water. The CGI is nearly invisible, yet completely essential and in service of a story about the power and beauty of Life. Also this film boasts quite possibly the best, in terms of most thrilling and visually stunning, depiction of a shipwreck, ever. Go see this movie at a theater. It demands to be seen larger than life. Not a minute of your time will be wasted.