Based on the highly acclaimed 2001 novel by Canadian author Yann Martel, Life of Pi tells a story of sweeping grandeur that is heavily steeped in spirituality and human faith in religion. Now don't be put off by the fact that it deals with these particular thematic elements because the film is also an incredible tale of adventure, survival and human endurance. I am not a religious person at all and I found the film to be a beautiful and fascinating story despite its sometimes simplistic take on all matters concerning God.
The story begins with an adult Pi Patel (played by the excellent Indian actor Iffran Khan) relaying the story of his life to a writer (Rafe Spall, probably representing author Martel). We see Pi growing up in Pondichery, India, where his family owns a small zoo. Pi is an intelligent and curious individual who always seems to be seeking answers about life and the true meaning it holds. Not being satisfied with only being a Hindu, he decides to study Christianity and Islam as well, eventually adopting the belief that God is something that lies within one's self and not in a singular faith or organized group.
At the age of 16 he is informed by his father that the zoo has gone broke and that they are going to have to move to Winnipeg, Canada where there is a job opportunity awaiting. With a few valuable animals in tow they set sail across the sea upon a cargo ship. When a devastating storm erupts the ship capsizes and Pi finds himself in a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean accompanied by a wounded zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a ferocious Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. For reasons that should be obvious, it doesn't take long before Pi is alone with the tiger, and this is where the incredible 227 day odyssey begins.
Directed gorgeously by Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain), Life of Pi is a stunning achievement in the art of visual storytelling, while at the same time having an emotional center to it that is both impactful and inspiring. Some of the shots in this film are exquisitely breathtaking and truly magnificent, and it would be a crime if there wasn't some type of year end awards recognition for this amazing technical feat. The special effects are incredible and I was in awe at how realistically the Bengal tiger was rendered. I never once thought that it wasn't a real tiger. I must also point out that the film was shot in 3D, and while normally I'm not the biggest fan of the gimmick, I must say that it really added another layer to the film giving it extra depth and making it feel lush and immersive. I would actually recommend seeing it in 3D to truly experience it the best way possible.
As beautiful as the visuals are however, the film wouldn't work unless it contained a compelling story. Thankfully, the film succeeds on both counts, and a large amount of credit for that has to go to Suraj Sharma, the first time actor tasked with playing the role of Pi. He does a fabulous job conveying the fear, courage, and emotional resolve that would be necessary to survive such a horrific ordeal. It is a truly harrowing experience and the fact that he must share it with a fearsome tiger makes it even more dangerous. His interaction and ultimate bond that he shares with Richard Parker is a sight to behold.
I think that fans of the novel should be quite pleased with the film, as Ang Lee remains very faithful to the source material, although it has been over eight years since I have read it and I can't quite recall every single detail.
Life of Pi is likely to affect each individual differently depending on your particular beliefs or convictions, but there is no denying the masterful storytelling at work here. It's a powerful film that is likely to make one ruminate on the very nature of our existence in this vast and beautiful world that we inhabit.
For those of you who are interested in a thought provoking and captivating tale of survival and adventure, Life of Pi is well worth seeking out.
I give Life of Pi a 9 out of 10.