On Tuesday, Life of Pi will be released on blu-ray and dvd. So for all of my readers who have not already seen the film that earned Ang Lee his second Oscar for Best Director, please allow me to offer you my always humble opinion why you should rent this film as soon as you possibly can.
Life of Pi is, you guessed it, the life-story of one man, Piscine Patel, or Pi for short, told through his own words. The film opens with a writer, hungry for a subject for his second book, who has been forwarded to Pi with the promise of “a story that will make you believe in God.” As he begins interviewing his subject, he finds that Pi is quite clever and a great storyteller, but nothing can prepare him for the absolute wonder of the story he is about to be told.
Pi begins his story with a humorous account of how he came upon his nickname (he was named after a public pool in France, not the mathematical symbol) and how his relationship with religion molded his childhood. However, when his father catches him attempting to hand-feed a tiger through the bars of its cage, he is taught a lesson, and is forced to watch that same tiger viciously devour a goat standing the same distance he had been standing only moments before. This major event in young Pi’s life deters his belief that animals, like humans, have souls and casts him out of a childhood filled with wonder and into a phase in which he feels lost, searching for meaning in his life.
Just as Pi finds a beautiful girl to reignite his passion for life, his father tells him that he and his family must leave India for Canada by way of a ship that is destined for terrible things. On their trip to a new home in Canada, the ship sails into a storm that leaves Pi stranded in the middle of the ocean with only an orangutan, a hyena, a zebra, and a fearsome Bengal tiger named Richard Parker for company.
Ang Lee’s film is one of survival, friendship, and the power of hope when all odds are against you. The story itself, even though it is fictitious, is an incredible account of the possibilities of the human spirit when faced with “impossible” hurdles. Just as inspiring are the film’s (also Oscar-winning) special effects. You may not know it when watching the film’s trailer, but the tiger is completely computer-generated, a fact you will soon forget once you see Richard Parker on-screen. Besides the CGI tiger, Ang Lee uses special effects in ways that have never been seen before. One scene in particular involving a fleet of jellyfish was so beautiful it nearly brought tears to my eyes.
Lee also uses color in his film in ways that will astound you. The beautiful array of glowing greens, bright yellows and somber blues fill the screen and offer a real sense of emotion throughout. If I haven’t articulated myself well enough on this point let me put it another way: the visuals in this movie are easily the best I’ve seen since Avatar. Not only do the visuals capture the imagination, but the soundtrack is quite amazing in and of itself. Pi’s theme is a beautiful ballad of Indian lyrics combined with some effective oohing that fits perfectly with the beauty of what is seen on the screen.
By the film’s final act, the writer listening to Pi’s incredible story finds that this truly was a story to make one believe in God, and not even in a traditional religious sense. Pi teaches us that it isn’t really a person’s religion that matters; what matters is one's faith and a belief in a higher meaning for our own lives. And Life of Pi is one of those movies that will make you believe there is a place for a higher meaning in film as well.