Life of Pi is two different movies put in one – the first is a gorgeous, stunning collection of frames that tosses you on an emotional journey just like its protagonist, and the second, a heavy handed sermon on the necessity of God and the meaning of life. It succeeds gloriously in the former, and falls flat in the latter. Either ways, the film provides ample proof that director Ang Lee can make even an inanimate object filmable.
The film stars Irrfan as Pi and newcomer Suraj Sharma as his younger self, but the guy who makes the most impact in Life of Pi is a CGI tiger called Richard Parker, and it is a testament to how insanely sophisticated computer graphics have become. Every scene is so meticulously put together by Lee and his crew, so compelling and eye popping it’s nearly impossible to separate the CGI from the practical effects. The Hobbit hasn’t released yet, but you would be hard pressed to find a more gorgeous movie this year. Take a look:
Lee’s adaptation remains faithful to Yann Martel’s book – after a devastating storm Pi is marooned at sea on a lifeboat with an orangutan, a zebra, a hyena and Richard Parker the tiger, and has his task cut out to survive. The tiger is so hypnotic to watch you won’t believe it until you see for yourselves. Only a blind Oscar voter would not be able to see the amount of technical effort put in Richard Parker. It almost seems like Ang Lee channeled all his sorrow from The Hulk’s failure and created a CGI character that will forever be remembered as iconic. Parker’s eyes are so powerful they actually manage to flood your brain with the questions layering the theme of the book – whether it is possible to tame a wild animal and become friends with it, and whether a wild animal whose life you save will ever return your favor. One moment you’re frightened to look into his eyes, the next you feel your heart wrenching as they betray the ever so slight sense of helplessness when Parker hangs on for life. But the tiger isn’t just the beauty of Life of Pi - there are Avatar-esque bioluminescent blue-green vegetation, vast expanse of sea, meercats and algae that emit just the right amounts of magic and realism.
Unfortunately, the two hour long, carefully crafted emotional buildup leads to a finale that consists of a long, uncut monologue by Pi, and is absolutely infuriating to watch. Those who’ve read the book will know that the climax is a frightening turn that explains majority of the magic realism throughout the movie. But what we get is a droning line reading of the same, and it totally diminishes the impact of the events, and goes completely against the point of the whole film. Why bother making a two plus hour movie if the most important events of the story won’t even be shown on screen? Might as well put Irrfan in front of the camera and let him narrate the whole story in twenty minutes. Moreover, the spiritual themes that pop in and out fail to connect on any level and are only jarring to the viewer. The metaphor of the duality and unpredictability of life, like the stillness of water and the raging waves may seem hammy to some. Ang Lee is a master of emotional jangling, but questions of nature and faith are best left to the venerable Terrence Malick to realize on screen. Irfan is strictly ok, and it remains to be seen if this becomes his big Hollywood break. Fans of Tabu will be disappointed as she makes a blink and miss appearance, but Suraj Sharma is quite a find.
Life of Pi nearly misses out from being a masterpiece, but it is a hell of a beautifully crafted film and is remarkably touching for its most part. It has been marketed as a 3D film, but it should be watched ONLY in 2D, on the largest screen possible. The 2D version is much brighter and more immersive than the dimly lit 3D version, although neither version fixes the curious lack of emotion in the finale.
(First published in MiD Day)