Ang Lee’s Life of Pi was a pleasant surprise for me. I had started to read Yann Martel’s book years ago but wasn’t entranced by it, so I never got around to finishing it. Now that I’ve seen the movie, I’m curious to go back and read the novel with a fresh perspective. The ambiguity in the ending made me fall for the story much more than I would have without that slight twist, much like I enjoyed Atonement for the ending more than the entire story.
Without giving that away, I thought the film was visually beautiful. In it, Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma for most of the film) recounts his experiences when he was a teenager, lost at sea on a small lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. It’s a survival story, but the cinematics give it extra appeal. Seeing the sea lit up with jellyfish and an island covered in meerkats is a visual feast — and I’m saying that after only seeing the 2D version. All the while, Sharma carries the film with a perfect balance of determination and fatigue, as Pi builds a raft, tries to catch fish, and attempts to make friends with a tiger who hasn’t eaten in days.
Life of Pi draws comparisons to Castaway, but this story has more magic and imagination, in my opinion. The fantastical storytelling reminded me a bit of magical realism, which I love. It starts with Pi telling the story of how he got his name, and from there the story becomes more and more playful, melodramatic, and just generally fascinating. It was unlike any story I had heard before. It’s a parable, and at the end of the film there’s a religious spin on the whole thing, as interviewers don’t believe some of the “facts” Pi tells them. But up to that point, the story — with its carnivorous island and incredible relationship between a human and a tiger — felt more like magical realism than just your average parable to me.
The most amazing thing about this film is that it manages to draw out Pi’s inner thoughts and drama, making them cinematic. The frame of an older Pi Patel recounting his tale for a writer also helps, making this film an experience in storytelling. It preps in such a way that by the end, when Pi recounts a version of what happened — just one long monologue, with his face against a white background — I was hanging on every word.
This is one of those films that doesn’t feel as long as it is. At the showing I was at, the audience reacted to all of the animal sightings and some of the bigger events, proving that the film is all-out engaging. I also appreciated that the ending wraps up the story quickly. That being said, I can’t imagine everyone will be impressed by the ending — it’s a little too tidy, and the insight may be a bit forced — but this film is much more about the magic of the journey, anyway.