It is rare that a movie turns into a spiritual experience, the kind where the audience leaves the theater with a collective feeling of heavy enlightenment. But director Ang Lee’s latest movie, Life of Pi—an adaptation of Yann Martel’s 2002 Mann Booker Prize for Fiction winner—is a deeply moving and visually captivating journey about bravery, faith, and the perseverance of the human spirit.
Shot in what just might be the most effective and sincere use of 3D technology, it tells the story of Pi Patel (played by four actors at varying ages, Gautam Belur, Ayush Tandon, Irrfan Khan, and predominantly by Suraj Sharma) an Indian adolescent who is thrown into an unlikely adventure at sea with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. It might sound like the Jungle Book, and there are a lot of similarities in terms of their sensibilities, but Life of Pi ultimately triumphs as a tale of survival as our lead and his unlikely companion pummel through a prison as vast as the open ocean.
When an economic crisis strikes the French-Indian Riviera, Pi, his family, and the myriad of animals from their zoo must migrate via a shipping freighter to Canada in search of greener pastures. Pi, a boy of both religious confusion and curiosity, taunts a raging lightning storm. The ship, along with Pi’s father, mother, and brother sink into oblivion in a torrential dramatic sequence that is as riveting to watch, as it is tragic, leaving him on a lifeboat with a hyena, an orangutan, a zebra, and a tiger.
The absurdity of the situation mirrors the challenge faced by director Ang Lee. You see, a film such as Pi would not have been possible about three decades ago—unless it was shot in pure animation or someone had found a tiger with willing thespian qualities. But Lee, famous for breaking barriers in his own right—he redefined martial arts movies with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and made gay cowboys critically and commercially successful in Brokeback Mountain—uses computer graphics and 3D with a masterful sense of intention that the imagery, combined with the emotional gravity of everything that occurs onscreen, flows like a body of water whether calm or violent.
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