by Ken B.
DISCLAIMER: Not movie-killing in the slightest sense, but if you want to see the movie as a complete outsider, you’d better skip the first paragraph. I guess you could call them spoilers…
When boiled down to its simplest terms, there are two types of fiction. Escapism, which shows fantastical elements, based on what the audience would want to see. Such examples would be a love story, where one-hundred percent of couples meet in childhood stay together forever, or a story where the differences between the good guys and the bad guys are clear as night and day, and the bad guys learn remorse and are punished, the good guys rewarded. The other type is realism, where it’s a slice of life, and it typically isn’t pretty. Comparably, the relationship between the couple doesn’t last, but they get experience for life at the most, or the good guys fail, and the bad guys seem to have their day. (Mind you, the escapism can be in reality, or transition into it). By the end of Life of Pi, based on Yann Martel’s bestselling novel, we are presented with one story told in two. One dealing in forms of escapism and one in realism. The story obviously wants us to believe the one rooted in escapism, as it has spent a good chunk of its time and money showing it to us. On the other hand, the realism version has only been briefly glossed over. I preferred the escapism version, for it was so odd and miraculous, you almost believe it could have happened in real life, also the far more uplifting and wonderful version.
Life of Pi, like the highly-overrated but still enjoyable Avatar, it a big budget special effects spectacle. But there’s a difference. Life of Pi is pitted in a soul – a life, an emotion, a connection. Avatar had a story that wasn’t really a story, just a recycled jumble of ideas. While there are several points where Life of Pi, no pun intended, appears just about to fly overboard, it doesn’t in the end. What struck me the most over these comparisons to Avatar is that Life of Pi was produced on roughly half the budget of Avatar, where truly the impact lies with the least expensive.
Based off Yann Martel’s bestselling novel, we are presented with the story of Piscine Molitor (like the swimming pool in France) Patel (SURAJ SHARMA for most of the film, various actors at other ages for other parts of the story). He is considerably scrutinized by his peers, due to the unpleasant reverberations of what happens when you say “Piscine” in a stereotypical Indian dialect (“pissing Patel”, yagetit?). He amends this by using the name “Pi” and the first day of school where he employs this climaxes in him writing hundreds of digits of Pi on the blackboard, showing the character’s mathematical talent.
He can’t figure out what religion makes the most out of his life – he observes and commends three at once. A few years later, he also has his first girlfriend. Simply put, he’s at the years where he’s finding himself as a person, and when his family makes the decision to move from Pondicherry to Canada, all of this is thrown off course. Especially so, when the boat is wrecked in a sudden and violent thunderstorm, and he’s stranded on a life raft with a Bengal tiger.
Well, this is a bit of a setup. We know, of course, that surviving anything more than a few hours with a Bengal tiger in a lifeboat, with few supplies, in the middle of the ocean is unrealistic, but because the movie shows itself as an appealing film experience, we are able to suspend disbelief for 127 minutes. What helps is that even though this is, indeed a story engaged in the unbelievable, 2 time Oscar-winning (Brokeback Mountain, 2005 / Life of Pi, 2012) director Ang Lee, along with his marvelously talented visual team, cast the film in mostly low, unsuspecting hues, almost injecting realism into the depths of fantasy.
For the middle chunk of the film, the primary (and for most of the time, only) human actor is Suraj Sharma as Pi. And he delivers a strong performance, but for the sake of the movie, he pretty much had to. But still, the fact that he’s pretty much surrounded by CGI is still mind-boggling, thanks to a combination of actor emotion and the brilliant visual effects. And the sound isn’t too shabby either. It’s rich and full, highlighted further by a beautiful score by Mychael Danna.
For those of you who have seen Life of Pi, the scene, late in the movie, during a violent storm on the life raft (I won’t spoil it in its entirety for those unfamiliar) was the most emotionally powerful to me only while it was occurring. As I write this, less than 24 hours later, it has lost nearly all of its impact on me. (It kind of had by the time scene itself had ended!). Life of Pi, as an entire movie, is certainly memorable, and may be quite compelling at times, with its symbolism (Pi writes a journal in a survival handbook with a pencil – as time goes on it gets shorter and weaker, like his hope… either that or it’s simply a pencil that was used a lot) and visuals, but its mistakes are too apparent to be completely overlooked and to brandish with a perfect rating. The 3.5 star rating here is low-end.