“Life of Pi” is a film directed by renowned Lee Ang based on an award-winning novel of the same name written by Yann Martel. Let me get 2 things out of the way. I have never read the novel and I’m not a total fan of Lee Ang. Lee Ang’s movies are a little hit-or-miss for me. Some of his movies like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” were wonderful but others like “The Hulk” were not.
“Life of Pi” is a movie firmly in the former category.
The film starts with a man named Piscine Molitor "Pi" Patel telling his life story to a writer. Pi was named after a swimming pool in France and had to change his name to "Pi" in secondary school because he is tired of being taunted with the nickname "Pissing Patel". His father owns a zoo in Pondicherry , providing Pi with some understanding of animals.
Pi’s wealthy family are Hindus, but as a fourteen-year-old he is introduced to Christianity and Islam. A curious and religious young boy, Pi started to follow all three religions as he tries to understand God through the teaching of each religion. He begin to understand there were benefits in each religion.
Due to the unrest in India at the time, his father decides to sell their zoo. He made plans to sell the animals to various zoos around the world before having the family finally settling in Canada . Pi's family embarks on a Japanese freighter to Canada carrying some of the animals from their zoo, but a few days after leaving port in Manila, the ship capsizes in a storm and Pi loses his family.
During the storm, Pi escapes death in a small lifeboat with a spotted hyena, an injured zebra, and an orangutan. As Pi tries to survive among the animals, the hyena kills the zebra, then the orangutan. At this point, it is discovered that a Bengal tiger had been hiding under the boat's tarp. The tiger kills and eats the hyena.
Terrified, Pi constructs a small raft out of flotation devices, tethers it to the boat, and retreats onto it. He delivers some of the fish and water he harvests to the tiger to keep him satisfied, conditioning the tiger not to threaten him by rocking the boat and causing seasickness while blowing a whistle. Eventually, the tiger and Pi learns to tolerate each other's presence.
As Pi continues his story to the writer, he recounts various events while adrift. These include a whale rocking the boat, an entire ocean covered with jelly fishes, a swarm of flying fishes, a carnivorous island inhabited by meerkats and stunning views of the sunrise and sunset that makes Pi feel closer to God. After 227 days, the lifeboat washes up onto the coast of Mexico and the tiger immediately escapes into the nearby jungle.
Pi was rescued and while recovering in a hospital, two officials from the Japanese shipping company went to speak to Pi, hoping to ascertain why the ship sank. When they do not believe his story, Pi tells them an alternate story.
In this story, Pi was adrift on the lifeboat with his mother, a sailor with a broken leg, and the ship's cook. The sailor died due to the broken leg. The cook cut up the sailor’s body to use as bait for fishes and also eat it as there was a lack of food on the boat. The cook later killed Pi's mother in a dispute and horrified, he did not attempt to protect himself when Pi kill him in vengeance.
Parallels to Pi's first story lead the Japanese officials (and the writer) to believe that the orangutan represents his mother, the zebra represents the sailor, the hyena represents the cook, and the tiger is Pi himself.
After giving all the information, Pi asks the writer which of the two stories he prefers since no one can prove which story is true and neither is relevant to the reasons behind the shipwreck. The writer chose the story with the animals as “it is the better story”. Pi hand a report written by the Japanese officials to the writer and he discover that the officials too prefer the story with the animals. Smiling, Pi thanks the writer and says his story in now in the hands of the writer.
Let me be blunt; this is a wonderful movie. As I said earlier, I’m not a total fan of Lee Ang but he hit the ball out of the park in this one. The sheer poetry he brings to this movie is shockingly great. I did not see the movie in 3-D but frankly I don’t need to. “Life of Pi” is such a visually amazing, imaginative and inventive work that if you don’t like it, I seriously think there’s something wrong with you. There were times in the movie when I truly have no idea what will happen next. Mind you, this is a movie about a boy in a boat with a tiger. That is not easy.
Not only does it looks good and is imaginative, “Life of Pi” is also a philosophical tale on the brutality of man and the lies we tell ourselves. The movie questions the way we view truth and confronts the perception and belief that truth is always better than the comforting lies we tell ourselves.
In short, “Life of Pi” is so good it is nothing short of a masterpiece.