Weekend Review: Life of Pi

Life of Pi, based on Yann Martel’s award-winning novel, which many people considered unfilmable, made it to the theatres late in 2012. Ang Lee’s adaptation may not, as its hero claims, make you believe in God, but I know it made me forgive the director for Hulk and reconsider the viability of 3-D. Life of Pi has garnered multiple Oscar nominations, the closest we have to a fantasy/SF film this year with such accolades.

It concerns a boy who gets shipwrecked with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

Title: Life of Pi

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Directed by Ang Lee
Written by David Magee from the novel by Yann Martel
Cinematography by Claudio Miranda

Suraj Sharma as Pi Patel
Irrfan Khan as Pi Patel (adult)
Ayush Tandon as Pi Patel (twelve years)
Gautam Belur as Pi Patel (five years)
Adil Hussain as Santosh Patel
Tabu as Gita Patel
Ayan Khan, Mohd Abbas Khaleeli, and Vibish Svakumar as Ravi Patel
Rafe Spall as novelist
Gérard Depardieu as ship’s cook
Shravanthi Sainath as Anandi
James Saito as older investigator
Jun Naito as younger investigator
Four tigers and a vast number of f/x people as Richard Parker

Full Cast and Crew information is available at the imdb.


Pi, a young Indian named for a French swimming pool, grows up in a zoo and becomes fascinated with religions. His parents, concerned about their future prospects, head to Canada on the same ship that will transport most of the zoo animals for sale.

When a storm wrecks the ship, Pi must survive a harrowing ocean journey against seemingly impossible odds and fantastic events. His most immediate threat must also become his ally: he shares the boat with some surviving animals, including a ferocious Bengal tiger.

High Points:

The film’s acting, effects, and visual imagery all qualify, and have been addressed elsewhere in this review. So, on to the story’s biggest question:

Apparently, the critic at The Village Voice found the film stacked its theological deck. I say, while not as complex as the book (and open to the same criticisms), the answer provided to the question of God’s existence is far more ambiguous than that critic may have realized. The ending won’t surprise those who have read the novel, but it manages to capture something of that ending’s wonder and mind-warpery.

Low Points:

Of course, the film becomes more overt than the novel when explaining the possible significances of the film’s revelations. This felt tedious and unnecessary. Pi’s reflections on spirituality seem overall less like an individual’s thoughts and more like pontifications when placed in this cinematic context.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6 The movie adapts a novel with a fair degree of fidelity. Nevertheless, that novel is highly original, and I can think of no film quite like this one.

Effects: 6/6 For the first time—ever—I exited a 3-D film without thinking one of the following:
a) the effects are cool, but I’d have been just as happy without them
b) what a freakin’ stupid gimmick! Please, Hollywood, stop with the 3-D.
Ang Lee has composed shots which would look fine in 2-D, but look spectacular in three dimensions, and evoke the sense of wonder for which previous 3-D films have strived and failed. Visually, Pi shares space with Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The CGI also ranks with the best past achievements. Richard Parker is as fully-realized and credible a character as the cinematic Gollum.

Production: 6/6

Acting: 6/6 The film boasts a remarkable cast. The previously-unknown teen actor Shiraj Sharma apparently took intensive training in ocean survival, yoga, and other relevant disciplines. The preparation shows.

Story: 5/6 Many readers find the book slow-moving, especially in the initial portions that develop Pi’s character before his fateful journey. The movie, wisely, minimizes those portions. They serve their purpose, but the creators knew that a film had to find its way to sea before long.

Nevertheless, the pacing still lags in some places.

Emotional Response: 5/6 Keep eyes and mind open. I don’t share Pi’s apparent conclusions, but I am pleased to follow the journey that led him there.

Overall: 6/6.

In total, Life of Pi receives 37/42.