Thursday, January 10, 2013

Life of Pi

A gorgeous allegory for imagining 
and surviving the impossible

The Astounding Visuals from Life of Pi
     Ang Lee’s Life of Pi is the most visually astounding movie of the year and that’s a year that includes Beasts of the Southern Wild, Moonrise Kingdom, The Avengers, Argo, The Dark Knight Rises, Skyfall, and the preview of Zero Dark Thirty.  We’re in an era when acting and cinematography are incredible; it’s the scripts that aren’t always on the same level.  Life of Pi, from Yann Martel’s critically lauded bestseller, has a strong
script, but I don’t know how much it’s departed from the novel.  Lee has worked from literary adaptations with different screenwriters before with Sense and Sensibility, The Ice Storm, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Brokeback Mountain.  I haven’t read the Chinese novel, but in the other three cases, I much preferred the movies.  Lee brings a grace and humanity to these works that deepens them emotionally.  

     Life of Pi is majestic once it moves into its flashback story, which is most of the movie.  It’s not giving away too much (after all, it was the book’s jacket image) that the teenaged Pi ends up in a life raft with an adult Bengal tiger after their ship capsizes.  The major conflict is how Pi will survive without being eaten.  What seems simple becomes an allegory on a number of levels including the power of imagination to escape insanity and the creation of religious philosophy to deal with the impossible.  Most significantly, Pi says, “Hunger can change everything you thought you knew about yourself.”

Suraj Sharma as Pi
     Both unknowns and international stars make up the cast.  Tabu as Pi’s mother and Irrfan Khan as the adult Pi were the parents in Mira Nair’s The Namesake, another literary adaptation, though not as amazing as Life of Pi.  Gérard Depardieu is the rude cook, who reveals the snobbery in Pi’s father, played by Indian stage and screen actor Adil Hussain.  However, it is Suraj Sharma, who has the toughest acting job and pulls it off.  In essence, he has to act against blue screens in the world’s largest wave tank and convince the audience that the tiger is real.  And he does it, thereby validating the theme of the movie metaphysically.  Back in the Hollywood’s old days, he’d have probably won a special award (Quvenzhané Wallis deserves one for Beasts as well).  The Daytime Emmys know enough to give awards to younger performers; why don’t the Oscars?

     One bonus for me and to emphasize the visual beauty is that we saw the movie in 2-D, though I could guess the sequences where it would have been compelling in 3-D.  I really dislike 3-D because my eyes physiologically cannot keep up with it so I generally nod off.  Thankfully, and unlike the extremely long Avatar, Life of Pi is being shown in both formats.

That big kitty looked a lot like me.  At least that's how I see me.  Rrrrrrrrrrrr!!

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