By Gary “3.14159 etc” Murray

Starring Saraj Sharma, Gerard Depardieu, Irrfan Khan and Tabu

Written by David Magee and based on the novel by Yann Martel

Directed by Ang Lee

Running time 127 min

MPAA Rating PG

Selig Film Rating FULL PRICE


Of all the modern directors working today Ang Lee stands alone.  The man has created some of the most compelling and visual films to ever grace the silver screen.  His latest is one of the most fantastical adventure stories ever brought to modern audiences and it is entitled Life of Pi.

The story of Life of Pi is of a young man with the nickname of Pi.  The film is of the tale he tells a novelist who he has never met.  The novelist was told that Pi has a fantastic story to relate.

The man recounts his travels coming to North America.  As a child, Pi Patel picked-up the name by reciting the infinite number to more than two decimal places.  His feat of mathematics shows his gift for the logical.   He is a sensitive young man with a belief in nature and a shyness with the young ladies. 

His parents own a zoo in India.  When his father decides to move the family to Canada and take the animals with them, young Pi is apprehensive.  They take a Asian steamer to their new home.  On board is a surly cook (Gerard Depardieu) who doesn’t take lightly the vegetarian family on his ship.

The storm is where the film goes from a simple tale to a visual feast for the eyes.  Rough seas release the animals and Pi, who ventured on deck to watch the roaring ocean, is placed in a life boat.  The ship goes down in a fantastic blend of CGI and live action shots.  The storm sequence is just the first in a long line of amazing visuals.

After the ship has gone down, Pi finds out that he is not alone in the water.   Almost immediately, he rescues a zebra, an orangutan, a laughing hyena and eventually a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.  As soon as the basic laws of nature take over, Pi and the tiger are alone in the boat.  Pi crafts a makeshift raft to stay away from the animal.

Pi realizes that it is his duty to care for the beast, a beast that would make a snack of him in an instant.   The beast is the last connection to his family and his old life.  He fights both lack of food and the elements to make sure Richard Parker is cared for.

The film cuts between the young Pi in the boat and the older Pi telling his story.  As the film unfolds, all is not what it seems in both the story and the telling of the tale.  It becomes a visually dense forest of emotions in the brackish ocean that Pi fights.  As the writer (and by extension the audience) hears of the life story of Pi, the reality becomes much more muddled.  To delve anymore into the plot would give away the magic of the experience.  We know that Pi will live we do not know how he does it.

Visually, Life of Pi is biggest feast in 2012.   Few 3-D films that are not totally animated hold-up under the scrutiny of the camera lens, but this work is a blatant exception.  Almost from the beginning, the frame of Life of Pi is loaded with many varied elements.  In a film that is mostly set at sea one would not expect such a palate of illustrations.  The skill of Ang Lee as a director is apparent in keeping the story from becoming as lost as Pi is. 

The final reveals of the film caused much discussion days after the work aired.  There were opinions of what was real and what was formed from the imagination.  Much like Citizen Kane, this is a film that is as much a work of interpretation as it is a simple cinematic tale.  The audience member gets out of it what they put into it. 

Ang Lee made one of my favorite films of all time Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  He also made the way over-rated Brokeback Mountain.  Ang also helmed Taking Woodstock and Hulk—big misfires by anyone’s count. Life of Pi is the kind of work that people will discuss long after its 2012 release.  It is the kind of film people will watch for generations.  It is a magical experience that is spiritual but not overtly religious. 

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