Ang Lee is an astonishing filmmaker, truly astonishing. He made martial arts acceptable to both the masses and the art-house crowd with the sublime Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, he made an absolutely amazing comic-book movie that mixed the ridiculous with the material of classic tragedies in the unjustly-disparaged Hulk (and, trust me, I was one of the many who hated it when I first saw it), he created a huge hit with a film that many dismissively referred to as “that gay cowboy movie” AKA Brokeback Mountain and now he’s both managed to film an unfilmable novel and, at the same time, forced me to write a review that will use phrases such as “life-affirming”, “nourishes your very soul” and “appeals to people of all beliefs while giving viewers the confidence to hold those beliefs”. And, as a proud and long-time atheist, I didn’t think I’d be using those phrases in any movie reviews.
Rafe Spall plays a writer who has been directed towards Pi (Irrfan Khan). Apparently, Pi has an amazing story to tell. It’s so amazing that when you hear it you just may come to believe in god. Pi begins by telling about the origin of his name and his early life. That, however, is just a prologue to the main tale, the story of a disaster at sea that left him (a younger Pi is played by Suraj Sharma) stranded on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger for company. The outcome is already known, as Pi is beside the writer and relating the story, but just how he survived his experience and what happened on that small lifeboat makes for some surprisingly incredible cinema.
With great acting from everyone involved (including the other actors who played younger versions of Pi and his brother, Ravi), top-notch CGI making everything on-screen possible and a script by David Magee that slots everything into place perfectly and allows for many dialogue-free moments throughout, Life Of Pi is a cinematic triumph. It’s also one of the few films released in 3D in recent years that makes the most use of the medium and truly immerses the viewer, surrounding audience members with light and beauty and an environment you actually seem to feel (I swear that I got colder whenever rain began pouring down upon the main character).
Every aspect deserves praise and this is a movie that, more than ever, should remind people of what a collaborative effort moviemaking is and just how many technically skilled folk are required, but it’s also yet another triumph for Ang Lee. He has brought everything together to create a movie that entertains while also standing out as a genuinely life-affirming experience. The ideas and the beauty on display here, even (especially?) the kind of beauty present in dangerous beasts, are expertly blended and served up in a dish that nourishes your very soul.
Okay, the movie could have been edited down ever so slightly (which is easy for me to say from the comfort of my armchair, I know) and there is a layer of extra artificiality to many of the scenes, there for aesthetic purposes, but also for the context of the tale, but these are minor quibbles when the end result is so glorious. Have I picked the wrong word there? No, I don’t think I have.
It’s a joy across the board, whether you believe in one religion or many or none. It will appeal to those who simply love to take in the beauty of mother nature and what it provides and it will appeal to those who spend more time thinking that we get through our lives thanks to whatever we hold within ourselves. Basically, it appeals to people of all beliefs while giving viewers the confidence to hold those beliefs. Which is almost where we came in.
DIRECTOR: ANG LEE
WRITER: DAVID MAGEE (BASED ON THE NOVEL BY YANN MARTEL)
STARS: SURAJ SHARMA, IRRFAN KHAN, RAFE SPALL, ADIL HUSSAIN, TABU, GERARD DEPARDIEU, SHARAVANTHI SAINATH
RUNTIME: 127 MINS APPROX