The greatest harm done to this super brilliant adaptation of Yann Martel’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel is thanks to the marketing department. Selling this movie as the next Avatar does no favours either to those looking for a VFX-stuffed extravaganza or fans of the book. Life of Pi is a heart-warming, thrilling tale spiced in equal measures with spirituality, survival, the sea and shipwrecks.
The film proves once again that content is king and technology is a tool that in the hands of an auteur can lift storytelling to another level altogether but can never ever take the place of creativity.
Essentially following the novel, the movie begins with Pi Patel telling his story to a writer. He tells of his childhood in Pondicherry, of how he was named Piscine Molitor after a swimming pool in France. He changes his name to Pi after all the unfortunate jokes in school. His father has a zoo and when Pi is 16, the family decides to migrate to Canada. The family with some of the animals (to be sold abroad) get on a Japanese freighter. Off the coast of Manila, the ship sinks in a storm. Only Pi, an injured zebra, a hyena, an orang-utan and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker get on a lifeboat.
The film then moves into shipwreck and castaway mode as Pi and Parker learn to survive in a hostile environment. The joy of the movie is the fact that you can look at it as a thrilling survival story or a deeply mystical delving into metaphysical depths or as both. You don’t have to choose one or the other, the beauty of it is this, that, everything and none of the above. The effects are lovely and not at all intrusive. The squid, the whale, the sea, the storm and everything in between are emblematic of cutting edge technology in the hands of an artiste. The cast — from Irrfan Khan as the older Pi to Tabu as Pi’s mum, Gerard Depardieu as the chef aboard the freighter, Rafe Spall as the writer, and Suraj Sharma as Pi — inhabit their roles. While I don’t like movies with animals in them, it is difficult to look at the majestic Richard Parker and not be mesmerised by him.
Truly reminiscent of that other by metaphysical master, William Blake, the doors of perception are cleansed as this Tyger burns bright. Even if his fearful symmetry was framed with a little help from VFX!
Life of Pi (English)
Cast: Irrfan Khan, Suraj Sharma, Tabu, Adil Hussain, Gerard Depardieu, Rafe Spall
Director: Ang Lee