Ang Lee has done the seemingly impossible and adapted Life of Pi for the big screen. This complex novel addresses faith (in all the major religions) and human instincts for survival, making it a wonderful book to read but a difficult one to translate to film. Yet Lee and screenwriter David Magee have done a perfect job adapting Yann Martel’s novel.
Pi, or Piscine Molitor Patel (Suraj Sharma), lives in India with his family that runs a zoo. He spends his childhood greedily studying Hindu, Islam, and Catholicism, searching for faith in all its forms. His faith is put to the test when disaster strikes the ship taking Pi and his family (and their zoo) to their new home in Canada. Stranded in a lifeboat with the ferocious Bengal tiger Richard Parker, Pi must stretch the limits of his survival skills without giving up hope.
As in the novel, the story of Pi’s past is told by adult Pi (Irrfan Khan) to his writer guest (Rafe Spall) who is hoping to make it his next project. But by the end of the film even the writer’s faith—in God and Pi—is put to the test.
Adult Pi’s narration in the first third of the film quickly grows distracting as it frequently jumps between past and present. But once the film settles into the voyage to Canada and impending disaster, it becomes easier to relax into the story. Of course, you won’t be relaxed for long, as Pi’s attempts to tame Richard Parker will keep you on edge.
What truly makes this film great are the special effects. The animals in this film are so fully realized that you can easily believe they’re real. The visual effects combined with the set design and art direction make such a beautiful film to watch that the plot almost comes secondary (It is even more remarkable for being done almost exactly as I imagined these scenes looking when I read the book.)
Ang Lee has crafted a beautiful film that will certainly land its share of Oscar nominations (the visual awards, certainly, along with Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay nods). Yet the film’s overtly religious tones make it tedious to watch in places. No matter your religious leanings, though, this is definitely one of the best films of the year. But, please, don’t bring your children to the theater when you see it (just because there are animals in it, doesn’t mean it’s a children’s film). And don’t forget to read Martel’s novel after you see the film —or, preferably, before.
- Life of Pi star Suraj Sharma (guardian.co.uk)
- Life of Pi: Magical adaptation is a winner (thehindu.com)
- Ang Lee’s Life of Pi: Storm and Fang, Water and Wonder (entertainment.time.com)