Sunday, November 25, 2012

Life Of Pi - Of God, Nature and Life

The premise of 'Life Of Pi' involves a 17 year old boy stuck on a lifeboat with a Royal Bengal tiger in the middle of the Pacific ocean for 227 days. The followers of the much loved 2002 Booker prize winner by Yann Martel have known it and now under filmmaker Ang Lee's masterful direction the entire world is treated to a magical parable of God's existence in every aspect of life. The movie starts with stunning 3D visuals of animals in a zoo. The stage is set for an experience of visual delight, the likes of which I have yet to see. Piscine(Pi) Patel is a young resident of Pondicherry whose family comprising of his parents and elder brother, own a zoo constructed in the botanical gardens there. Living amidst animals, an understanding and respect of the varied species develop in Pi. In a dramatic sequence with a tiger named Richard Parker, owing to a clerical error, and a goat, Pi's father (Adil Hussain) explains that animals are not ones friends, they are far removed from us, the compassion we mistakenly see in their eyes is but a mere reflection of our faces. This is a lesson which saves Pi later.

Developing an understanding and love for God in all forms worshipped  early in life, Pi embraces Hinduism (the religion he was born to), Christianity and Islam with equal measures of faith and reason. When his family decides to immigrate to Canada due to political unrest in India, they board a Japanese cargo ship carrying a number of their animals to sell off in North America. In the middle of the Pacific ocean a storm, never more majestically filmed as it is here in 3D, sweeps Pi's entire world away from him. Stranded in a lifeboat he faces an escaped zebra, orangoutang and hyena. And then as though God was not done with him, that Bengal Tiger, Richard Parker, makes his dramatic entry into the scene. Thus begins a tale of survival and coexistence, of wavering faith and the ultimate surrender to that supreme power.

The tale is told by an adult Pi (Irrfan Khan) to a writer (Rafe Spall) who has come to him with a lead on a story 'which would make him believe in God'. By the end of the tale, the reality is so astounding and indeed miraculous, that Pi's survival is clearly God's hand at play. The movie is a feast for the eyes, 3D which has so far been effective only in films like 'Avatar' and 'Hugo', comes full bloom here. The ocean, boat and sky merge together in incredulous visuals. It almost makes the world we inhabit dreary by comparison. There is a brilliant sequence of an island lush with greens, fresh water lakes and swarming meerkats. The island is significant in more ways than one, without giving anything away, I talk of its visual beauty. In the hands of a lesser director, 'Life of Pi' might have withered. But Lee shows a hold of his subject. This is more a spiritual journey than it is an adventure story. Lee curbs the use of too many thrills generally associated with 3D and CGI. There is an even pacing to this tale which is much needed to bring in the elements of spiritualism. The tiger which is mostly CGI is magnificent.

The actors are all aptly cast and even though it is essentially a story of Pi(Suraj Sharma) and the CGI tiger, everyone makes a mark no matter the screen time alloted. Adil Hussain and Tabu are well cast as Pi's father and mother. The narrator of the story is Irrfan Khan as the elder Pi and he conveys the journey well. Especially the scene where he is unable to comprehend the unceremonious parting with Richard Parker gives layers of interpretation to the story. However, the star is undoubtedly Suraj Sharma who embodies Pi's journey bravely from the naive boy to the survivor and resourceful, wise young man.

I have now picked up and immersed myself in Yann Martel's journey of the book. The movie has left me with questions I hope to understand through the source material. Where the movie is a visual journey of hope, survival and God, the book may reveal many layers that no image even ones as stunning as these can reproduce. As a standalone, the movie soars. However to truly understand the journey, the reading of the tale looks imperative. The testing of faith and the deliverance, the coincidence of Pi having survived 227 (22/7=Pi) days in the ocean, the significance of the name Piscine renames himself with and ultimately Richard Parker's role is open to audience interpretation and makes one truly think. How many movies can claim to do that nowadays?

Released in 2012
Running in Theaters
My Rating: 4/5

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