Wes Reviews: “Life of Pi”

3 stars out of 4

Rated PG for emotional thematic content throughout, and some scary action sequences and peril.

Director Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel “Life of Pi” is a fantastically shot vision of existential soul-searching. It is not brilliant — but neither was the book — but, it is not as if either was trying to impress philosophers or theologians. This is a PG-rated movie that gives a very nice introduction to ideas like the definition of truth and the shades of gray that lead to evil.

Centering on young Piscine “Pi” Patel, the story begins in India, where his father runs a zoo. One day, Pi goes to the tiger enclosure without permission. Enraged, his father decides to teach him a lesson. The father has a goat placed outside the bars of the tiger cage and has the family watch as the tiger pounces and rips the goat through the bars. Thankfully for the PG-rating of this movie, this and other violent actions are kept off-screen. However, Pi is not watching a movie of his life; he is living it. And so, he is both scarred and scared.

Later, due to financial reasons, the family must move away from the zoo and from India. They do not own the zoo, but they can sell the animals. And so, they do. Seeing opportunities dwindle in India, the family begins a trek with many of their animals on a cargo ship toward Canada. Unfortunately, the family and the ship’s crew run into a treacherous storm and the ship sinks — killing everyone onboard except Pi and several of the animals.

Having survived the wreck, Pi is stuck on a lifeboat with four wild animals. The way this section of the film plays out is quite nearly amazing. All of the characters are in well-established positions and yet it is a thrilling sequence that does not get its surprises by keeping key information away from the audience.  In essence, the thrills are not created by cinematic cheating.

Ang Lee is quite faithful to the book, even changing the aspect ratio in the midst of the movie in order to better imitate the well-known cover of the book. Perhaps he is too faithful; though, I will say that he handles the end of the story better than the book did.

This movie also has a concrete sense of camera placement. It is hard to overstate how much this movie is helped by not being done in a handheld style.

My reservations about recommending the movie are not tattooed on my soul, but they do exist. I think this is a great movie for younger audiences especially. I just wish it had more emotional resonance (as well as less obvious and yet clunky symbolism). I do not hesitate in saying this: don’t waste your time trying to see it in 3D. Admittedly, I have never loved 3D, but I do not know if I have ever been as annoyed with it as I was here. The idea that I was not able to fully enjoy the look of this beautifully-filmed movie was quite a bit irritating.

Also irritating: having a medium-sized (i.e. huge) soda and having to go to the bathroom the entire time, especially when the character on-screen is in such dire need of water.