|Suraj Sharma in Life of Pi|
I've never seen an Ang Lee film that was boring. From the delightful The Wedding Banquet to the gorgeous fairy tale Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; from the lamentable Hulk to the exquisitely heartbreaking Brokeback Mountain, Lee's films are always interesting and often politically controversial.
Such is the case with his latest film Life of Pi, an adaptation of Yann Martel's novel about a young Indian boy left adrift at sea for 227 days after a shipwreck. Pi (short for Piscene - the French word for "Swimming Pool"*) was born and raised in the zoo run by his parents in the French region of India. Raised by a Hindu mother and an atheist father, Pi develops a fascination with religion and embraces Hinduism, Christianity and Islam equally, much to the consternation of his father who explains that "...believing in everything is the same as believing in nothing." When a new tiger - named 'Richard Parker' due to a paperwork mix up - arrives at the zoo, a young Pi attempts to connect with the beast, though he is stopped before a tragedy ensues. When political discord affects the region, Pi's father decides to sell the zoo animals and move to Canada, much to the consternation of a now-teenaged Pi (Suraj Sharma), who has just met a girl he may well love. While crossing the Pacific, the ship carrying Pi's family and the animals is sunk by a horrific storm and Pi finds himself alone on a life boat with a broken-legged zebra; an orangutan named "Orange Juice;" a viscous hyena and the tiger, Richard Parker. What follows is a tale of survival and self-discovery as told through flashbacks by an adult Pi (Irrfan Khan) to a Canadian writer (Prometheus' biologist, Rafe Spall). While Pi's version of his survival may be suspect, it's certainly more inspirational than what may have really happened.
Gorgeous doesn't even begin to describe the imagery in Life of Pi. Surreal; hypnotic; colorful; fanciful; exotic and ethereal are just a few of the adjectives one could apply. From the title credits shots in the Indian zoo to the scenes adrift at sea, Lee fills the screen with exceptionally beautiful images that dazzle and enthrall. I deliberately chose to see the film in 2D to make sure the darkening effect of 3D glasses wouldn't interfere with the imagery. David Magee's (Finding Neverland) screenplay is just fine (though in full disclosure, I have not read Martell's novel) and the CGI effects are nothing short of remarkable. Though the centerpiece of the film is the exceptional performance from Sharma, who manages to create a character with whom we can both identify and care about. Pi's journey is expressed and experienced through his performance and I have to admit that the young man carries the film beyond its rather limited framework. I have no doubt that Sharma will be nominated for Best Actor at several award ceremonies.
While certainly a solid movie (albeit with a rather specific spiritual point of view), Life of Pi is not the movie the its commercials and trailers would have you believe. Never boring, often beautiful and occasionally inspirational, Life of Pi is a good way to start the Holiday Movie Season, though there are still several "must see" films on my list. And I can't imagine that the eye-fatiguing 3D version offers any better an experience.
While Life of Pi is not the best movie I have seen this year, it's certainly one them. *** (Three out of Four Stars)
*One of my very first French lessons in Middle School - when dinosaurs ruled the Earth - was: "Où est Sylvie? Ala piscene." or: "Where is Sylvia? At the pool."