Monday, February 25, 2013
Back in early November, I missed the press screening for Life of PI. Thank goodness the film was nominated for a best picture Oscar, otherwise it would have left the theater too quickly and I would have missed seeing it on the big screen; and watching it on my old 20th century TV wouldn't have done the movie justice.
It's just gorgeous! Director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain) and his team truly created some awe-inspiring 3D images for this film (click for video of Ang Lee/James Cameron on use of 3D) . Seeing such majesty makes you understand why people want to sail around the world. But in a real boat, with supplies and drinking water and oh yeah, no tigers allowed on board!
Life of PI is based on a 2001 best selling novel by Yann Martel (adapted to the screen by David Magee). I was given the book, but have yet to read it, so going into the movie I only knew that a young boy is lost at sea with a Bengal tiger. I therefore assumed the story would be all metaphorical, allegorical, dreamy and weird. Instead, as fantastical as it all sounds, it's presented in a way that does not make you question the validity of Piscine Molitor "PI" Patel's tale.
The zoo Pi's parents run in India seems to be thriving and doing well, but suddenly Pi's father announces they will be selling all the animals and moving to Canada, where the father has an offer for a more lucrative venture. Pi, his brother and mother are saddened at the thought of leaving, but resignedly board the Japanese cargo ship, crated animals and all. Unfortunately, the blessing God bestowed upon Noah's Ark doesn't extend to this ship, as it sinks for some unknown reason. The only survivors being Pi, a zebra with a broken leg, an orangutan, a wild-ass hyena and Richard Parker, a fierce Bengal tiger. After a battle of jungle hierarchy, it becomes man vs beast, with beast claiming victory for most of the film.
#LifeofPI joins the ranks of films like: Cast Away, Race to the Bottom of the Earth, Buried & 127 Hours. What do you call this genre of storytelling "Single Survivalist"? In all these movies, you can't imagine how one person's journey against the elements can be stirring, suspenseful and completely engaging for almost the entire length of the movie, but done right, it is.
And although the story is told from the present, with Pi recounting his adventure to a writer wishing to use his story for his next book; I felt the suspense and isolation are maintained by not jumping to the present too often. However, it is often enough, that you find yourself comparing the present day Pi (Irrfan Khan) with the main actor and younger version (Suraj Sharma) and feeling as if they could have done a better job casting. Both are wonderful in their respective roles, but there's no similarity in looks or essence between the two actors.
The power of God - is the movie too religious for a mainstream audience?
Pi is a young man of many faiths. He becomes fascinated with world religions at about the age of 6, finding some elements of credibility and truth in each. The differences in the philosophies and beliefs does not concern him; instead he's taken in by the similarities. At one point he makes a joke saying as a Catholic Hindu "We get to feel guilty before hundreds of gods, not just one".
Still, I think it's a story about finding God if that's what you are looking for (and perhaps the book is more spiritual) But Lee's main focus seems to be to tell a story about ingenuity, the human spirit and bonding. Which in truth, is where you'll find God.
Below is a good, short audio interview with the novelist Yann Martel (Patt Morrison 89.3 KPCC)- In terms of the overall vision, I quite early on decided that I had to let go. I didn’t want to be one of these annoying writers who, you know, barks and cajoles with emails, and saying I want you to do it this way or that way, because, after all, I’m a writer, I’m not a filmmaker. And because I trusted Ang Lee...
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