– By Christa Ktorides – Ang Lee finds himself back on form after the hippy dross of Taking Woodstock with this sublime adaptation of Yann Martel’s famously unfilmable novel, Life of Pi.
By Christa Ktorides
Ang Lee finds himself back on form after the hippy dross of
Taking Woodstock with this sublime adaptation of Yann Martel’s famously
unfilmable novel, Life of Pi.
British actor Rafe Spall plays a nameless Canadian
writer looking for his latest story. What he gets is a remarkable tale told by Piscine Molitor Patel (Irrfan Kahn) or Pi as he is more commonly known, about his fateful
sea voyage from his home in India to Canada. Pi fills us in on his backstory of
growing up in Pondicherry on his family’s zoo and the origin of his moniker (he
is named after a French swimming pool). Pi is a spiritual child who adheres to
several religions; Hindu, Christian and Muslim, taking guidance and comfort
from all three. When Pi’s father has to sell up, the Patel’s, along with the
zoo’s animals, board a ship bound for Canada that falls foul of a terrible
storm leaving Pi alone in a lifeboat with only the zoo’s Bengal tiger, Richard
Parker, for company.
The Indian-set scenes of Life of Pi are sweet enough, with charming
performances from child actors Gautaum
Belur and Ayush Tandon as the
young Pi, but it is with an increasing impatience that the audience wish to
speed through them and get to the meat and potatoes of the story. Namely, show us
the disaster at sea and the vicious tiger on the boat please. A brief love
story involving the teenage Pi barely registers any interest and further bogs
down proceedings and stretches the running time. These are however minor
quibbles because once Pi (now played by Suraj
Sharma) is cruelly separated from his family forever, the lone human
survivor of the violent storm learns to live with the vicious, starving Richard
Parker as the pair drift for weeks on the seemingly endless ocean.
Spall and Kahn have an easy and sweet chemistry as the wide-eyed writer
searching for creative and spiritual nourishment and the serene, charismatic
storyteller respectively. Kahn has an ability to convey a multitude of emotions
with a flicker of his eyes but it’s the young Sharma as the shipwrecked Pi who
will have you alternately punching the air at every tiny triumph and weeping
silently behind your 3D glasses as his resolve crumbles. The relationship
between boy and tiger is utterly believable despite its improbability as they
size each other up and alternate who is king of their floating castle.
Lee performs a remarkable feat in harnessing the tricky beast that is 3D
and uses the medium to add depth and wonder rather than a gimmicky, throwaway
tool to fleece cinemagoers. It’s surely a beautiful film with or without 3D but,
for those usually adverse to the dubious charms of that extra dimension, it is a
great place to reacquaint yourself with the technology.
While praise for the film will quite rightly focus on the stunning visuals
and the truly astonishing effects that make you believe a real, living,
breathing tiger is prowling a lifeboat in the middle of ocean, what the film truly
leaves you with at the end of the day is a sense of the spiritual, the
importance of faith in people’s lives and, cliché it may be, the triumph of the
human spirit as Ang Lee takes us on a spiritual odyssey that is not just a
feast for the eyes but a lavish banquet for the soul.