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Pi is a marvellous, mystical study in resilience and survival

Paul Peterson

Years ago I read Canadian Yann Martell’s remarkable novel The Life of Pi and was impressed by several things about the book. It’s rather sweeping mysticism coupled with the totally original story about a young boy who is trapped in a boat with a Bengal tiger. The visuals described were amazing and the originality of the text contributed to the sense that this was one of the truly great books I had read. With the same vision that convinced me not to buy into a company that bottled water because Canadians would never pay for it, I was sure that this film would never be a movie. Never.
When I saw that Ang Lee had taken this project on and was turning it into a feature length film, my respect for him notwithstanding, I was still sure there was no way to make a movie out of this.
Ok. I was wrong.
Really wrong.
Not only was it turned into a movie, it’s a great movie.
In some ways it’s a very simple story. Pi is a young man in India with all the usual young man angst. Friends at school make fun of his real name Piscine, and call him Pee so he starts going by Pi. I liked that. Pi’s dad owns a small zoo that is losing money, so he decides to move everyone to Canada. And so the voyage begins.
However, they hit rough seas and Pi and some animals are swept overboard and into the life boat. Now the real journey starts.
I’m not going to focus on the mysticism of either the movie or the book. Suffice to say this isn’t just about sharing a boat with a tiger. For me, sometimes a metaphor is the same but different. I’m just saying.
Let’s just focus on the here and now.
Filmed in 3D, this movie is getting the kind of accolades that Avatar had for being a film that was made for 3D or rather it was made for this. I tend to agree. While not a proponent of it in general, it really does have a home here. All of the visuals are enhanced by the graphic detail, and it’s never used for cheesy effect or gratuitous thrills. It just makes everything look richer, deeper, better.
Pi is a study in resilience and survival.
He has to tame this tiger, or at least teach it to stay away.
Naturally, being eaten is a prime motivator and he learns his lessons well.
I couldn’t help but think of Tom Hanks in Cast Away, and how that study of the human condition showed us the need to bond, to find some level of humanity wherever we can. With Hanks it’s a volleyball named Wilson.
For Pi it’s a tiger named Robert Parker. Whimsy abounds.
Ang Lee is a sometimes brilliant director. He has moments in some of his films that are stand alone gems. I still consider the Somewhere Over The Rainbow sequence in Face/Off as one of the watershed moments in moviemaking.
The Life of Pi has several moments maybe not as powerful as that but still brilliant.
There is tremendous power in this film. It’s not a Disney animal buddy picture. We are reminded often enough of the power and destructive nature of these beasts.
The connecting thread is their need for each other in order to survive, and how they make peace. Pi is played by relative newcomer Suraj Sharma and he’s convincing and compelling in the role.
The cinematogrraphy is spectacular and while we understand that most of the sequences with the tiger are CGI not all and I defy you to tell which is which.
The story bogs down at times and there are gaps and leaps of faith that were a stretch for me, but it’s forgiveable because the film is beautiful.
I loved the book so in some ways I was pre-sold but given my misgivings, I think I went into the screening with a lot of doubt. I was quickly converted and sat mesmerized for the most part

The improbably life of Pi is probably going to garner some serious nominations this year for an Academy Award and leading the way should be Ang Lee for Best Director because this is a major achievement.
A boy a tiger and a boat. Improbable? Yes. Great filmmaking? Absolutely.
As always, other opinions are welcome, but wrong. That’s it for this week. The cheque’s in the mail and I’m outta here. Paul.

Filed Under: News from Everywhere ElsePaul Peterson

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