One of the most beautifully crafted and masterfully told stories of 2012 is Life of Pi. Directed by Academy-award winner, Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain), the filmmaker also responsible for the spiritual Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the emotionally intense The Ice Storm, this may be Lee's love poem of pure human compassion. It is a visual feast for the eyes and a emotionally enriching experience for the heart. Based on the illustrious novel by Yann Martel and adapted with graceful precision by David Magee, this is the first family film since 1968's Oliver! to strike a chord with major audiences and Academy voters for its tale of survival and courage. It happens to be as well one of the best films to discuss God since 2005's End of the Spear.
Opening with flashbacks at a beautiful India zoo and memories of the famous French Piscine Molitor swimming pool which the character's name is attributed, Pi's life begins like any other boy with his whole life ahead of him. In loving Spielbergian/Capraesque style, we catch glimpses of Pi's life and all its splendid childlike wonder. He experiences many triumphs and tragedies at the hands of the people around him. However, his greatest lessons seem to come from his fascination with spirituality. It is very unusual for a child to take such interest in various forms of spiritual tradition including Hindu, Christianity, Islam (and eventually Judaism) as indicated in his self-exploration. As far as his father is concerned, he is wasting his time in following it all blindly and should also listen to the voice of reason. Despite Life of Pi functioning quite a bit like a biblical story, there is quite a bit of lessons devoted to logic and reason. Life is a combination of faith and logic and David Magee's script is a refreshing testament to this. Spirituality proves that Pi finds inner peace and happiness. Reason proves to Pi that life can be extremely difficult and the only way to live is to let go of what does not make you happy. When reason proves that Pi's family must leave India in order to stabilize themselves financially, the family set voyage for Canada along with their zoo animals set for purchase. When the plot finally unfolds stranding Pi in the middle of the ocean with only a boat, some supplies and a few surviving zoo animals including a vicious tiger amusingly named Richard Parker, Pi becomes a pure survivor with only his faith and his problem solving to get him by. Our lead is played by a wonderful up and coming actor, Suraj Sharma, who brings an incredible honesty and genuine purity to the character. The audience understands that Pi is not a naive child whatsoever, but a boy simply trying to find his place in the world in the world of gods. Like Tom Hanks' performance in Cast Away, young Sharma acts only to a non-human character, a computer generated tiger (amazing Academy-award winning visual effects). Somehow an incredible chemistry is produced from this and an adventure of the ages begins. Ang Lee very fortunately focuses on all the beautiful elements of the world here. In order for Pi to see the mystery of God all around him, it is revealed through the simple beauty of the universe, the perils of Earth's systematic storms, the sealife all around him and an unusual island that works as an allegory for both paradise and death. In a Citizen Kane-type format where an older Pi recounts the events of his younger years, veteran actor Irrfan Khan breathes wonderful wisdom into the older version of Pi where, without a doubt, he believes his survival is nothing short of a miracle and a remarkable test to live life; all gratitude toward God.
Another key point in this film's success is Claudio Miranda's extraordinary cinematography, which too won an Oscar. Every scene looks like a vision of beauty. It comes off more than just a very well rendered painting. It is more of a gorgeous three dimensional interpretation of life. When Pi sees something that is new to him, it gleams with curious brightness. When Pi experiences something that sad and regretful, it retains its beauty, but with a certain amount of fading joy. When Pi goes through a terrible horror, the lighting becomes extremely gray and monotonous while still containing some strange form of excitement. It seems to suggest that if life is difficult that it doesn't necessarily mean that it is not worthwhile and full of better possibilities. Life goes on and so we all must. Bottom line, Life of Pi is not a mere movie. It is a fantastic celebration of life and how incredible it can be: from survival to understanding your soul and the souls of the animals around you, and ultimately, then appreciate all of life itself. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the one who carries beauty in their heart is truly one with the spirits.