MOVIE REVIEW: The Life of Pi
Here at Movies You Should Love, we don’t so much review movies as we discuss them and to do anything more or less with The Life of Pi is missing the point entirely.
Adaptation is such a tricky process. It’s so easy to lift scenes and dialog from the book and completely miss the spirit or even the point of the book. If filmmakers are to err on one side of the adaptation process, I’d much rather entire sections of the book be missing and be given a movie that captures all the feelings of the book and makes me feel them again. There’s a reason Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban is everyone’s favorite from the franchise*.
Ang Lee’s The Life of Pi is one of those wondrous adaptations that manages to both present the story as it’s told in the book and capture all the wonder, all the magical, and all the spirituality of the source material. Yann Martel’s book must have been intimidating to adapt. Two thirds of the book take place in a life raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. On that life raft is a fifteen year-old Indian boy and a Bengal tiger.
The Life of Pi (both the movie and the book) is a wonderful contemplation of life, what it is and why it is. It’s a story of survival. It’s a story of faith and hope and isn’t afraid to shy away asking the audience, “what do you believe?” The story is of a young boy named Pi, who grows up in Pondicherry, India. His father runs the zoo there until one day he decides to sell the animals and move the family to Canada. Just a few days into their voyage and the ship carrying the Patel family and all their precious animal cargo sinks. What happens next is, quite simply, one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever taken in.
What’s astounding, too, is the movie is “only” PG. It never talks down to you. It’s possibly the most mature movie I’ve ever seen. Yet, there’s something universal in the movie and in the story and in the scenes that you can take the entire family to it, and everyone’s going to enjoy it. The wife, I, and the 14 year-old all walked out of the theater, a little breathless and very much in awe of what we had just seen.
This is, also, a gorgeous-looking movie. While I’m assuming there was a lot of special effects, a lot of green screens, and a lot of computer generated tigers, there’s never a moment that stands out as fake. You never see the seams. You see things you don’t quite understand and you see things you’ve never seen before and you see things you can’t believe, but it all somehow feels completely real. We didn’t see the movie in 3D. I’m actually quite tempted to watch it again, this time in 3D. I’ve only heard good things about it. But you don’t need the 3D to understand the point of the story, to internalize the question, to understand the metaphor and to join in the conversation.
Because, ultimately, this is a story that is meant to start a conversation. It presents to you Pi’s worldview and then, quite humbly, asks you what yours is. To talk about the special effects, the wonderful script and the superior acting and not on that is, as I said before, missing the point entirely.
*Anyone who claims otherwise is mistaken.