I find myself searching for things to say about Life of Pi, but am finding that the words fail me more often than not. I want to speak in nothing but hyperbole and say things you would say to your ‘bro’ friend. ‘Dude it was awesome’ or ‘bro it was completely incredible.’ These are silly, repetitive things to say about a movie that literally confounds and crushes you with it’s beauty and the simplicity in which it handles tough subjects like religion and life. Two subjects Hollywood are constantly approaching but seem to handle them in a way a toddler would handle fine china. Ang Lee might be the person they should have gone to all along.
Ang Lee is constantly involved in the tough sell, it seems. Brokeback Mountain approaches a homosexual relationship among the manliest of men and instead of telling a tried and true superhero tale, with Hulk, he decided to give us a complex character story about Bruce Banner, his father and the raging beast that lives inside him. Not much has changed with Life of Pi. You can see that Fox has no earthly idea how to market this movie, based on the commercials I’ve seen, and what they have decided to focus on. ‘Boy survives a shipwreck and then survives with a tiger in his life boat! Watch how it all unfolds!’ While these elements are in the movie, this couldn’t be further from what the actual movie is about and with Ang Lee on board you knew there had to be something else going on here.
Life of Pi at its core is a spiritual journey posing two versions of a central event. The two versions of the story point to religious belief and whether or not belief or disbelief is more important in the grand scheme. The journey to this moment in the film is an extremely emotional ride and feels as though Ang Lee is trying to punish us, the viewer, and his protagonist, but this makes the payoff all the more worthwhile. Mostly due to the fact that you have so much emotionally invested in the character of Pi Patel played brilliantly by four actors. Gautam Belur playing the youngest Pi, Ayush Tandon playing older/young Pi, Irrfan Khan playing the older/wiser Pi, and Suraj Sharma, whom you spend most the film with, playing, you guessed it, Pi. While all turn in great performances, especially Irrfan Khan, it’s Suraj Sharma who steals the show. He is truly extraordinary and shows the acting ability of someone twice his age, with twice the experience. Suraj acts alone for at least a third of the movie and I’m almost certain he was completely alone as the tiger is mostly, if not all, CGI. His performance is both a testament to Ang Lee’s ability to pull performances like this from his actors, and Suraj’s obvious natural ability.
I’ve talked a little about the beauty of the film but to be completely honest, it’s hard to verbalize what a cinematic experience this was. Now, for my next trick, I will try. I can only imagine what it must be like to see through the eyes of cinematographer Claudio Miranda, as he has painted the screen with incredibly beautiful imagery throughout. This is a man with a real eye for capturing incredible moments. Using every inch of the screen to enhance this already incredible story. One moment you’re seeing “the most beautiful thing you have ever seen” and then five minutes later that image is trumped by the next “most beautiful thing that you have ever seen.” This happens over and over and over again. The ship sinking underwater, the whale jumping out of the ocean into the brilliant cascading neon colors of the night, the depth of the tiger’s eyes, the placid limitless beauty of the sky reflected on the ocean’s surface and so on and so on. The film isn’t beautiful just to show off and be beautiful. It’s beautiful because this is the story Pi is telling us. He wants it to be larger than life and full of color. This one element plays a huge role in the overarching theme of the movie and reveals itself beautifully in the film’s incredibly emotional third act.
Life of Pi is a beautiful love letter to the world of cinema displaying all the perks of this great artistic medium. Achieving the greatest of heights in cinematography, writing, direction, acting and the score. This perfectly tuned machine takes us on an incredible journey I won’t soon forget. Ang Lee is telling Hollywood that you can approach tough questions about faith, love and loss without flinching and actually say something that isn’t heavy handed, but inspires great introspection. There is an incredible journey to be experienced with Life of Pi and I recommend that everyone take it.
By Brandon Bray