November 25, 2012

Faith & Tigers: Life of Pi Astounds

A teenager and a dangerous tiger are trapped on a lifeboat. That simple premise for Yann Martel's "Life of Pi" was enough to pull me into the novel when I first read it upon publication in 2001. I can recall that some of the novel's themes of religion, spirituality, hope, the nature of truth, and man's relationship with nature were totally lost on me when I read it. Nevertheless, like classic survival stories like "Robinson Crusoe," "Castaway," or even"Lost" I found the tale to be gripping and highly memorable. So like many of my favorite books, I tracked it's journey to the screen with a fierce diligence. And boy, since 10 years have past since I first read it, it certainly took a long time to get to the screen.

Like most best-selling books turned films, many exciting directors were linked to the project. M. Night Shyamalan (when he was at the top of his game) was connected to it at one point and so was Alfonso Cuaron.  Whimsical French director Jean Pierre Jeunet was linked to it as well. So in 2009, when Ang Lee was announced as the director, I was skeptical that it would actually get going. And since the story doesn't really require any movie-stars, the production was mostly silent. When the first image of the film was released last year, I was shocked that it had actually made it to the screen. With every new image, trailer, and article, I found it harder to believe that one of the novels that I had loved growing up was finally hitting the screen after all these years. When I finally found myself seated in the theater with my 3D glasses on I was fully on board the TPG hype train and the it was jam packed with 10 years of anticipation.

The movie does not disappoint. I found it to be a rousing adventure story with a strong spiritual element . Beyond the narrative though, this is an incredibly breathtaking film. How ironic that last week I was praising the visuals in "Skyfall" and then this visual firecracker of a film comes right in and keeps the party going. Everything from the incredible computer generated tiger, the massive mountains of water rolling in the ocean, and the trippy underwater/intergalactic scenes are jaw-dropping. Real talk, in 3-D they're positively mind blowing. It doesn't matter if it's a massive storm tearing apart a ship, the migrations of thousands of meerkats, or just the tiger leaping out at the audience,  this is visual storytelling at its finest. Sure, they are flashy, but they only aid in the telling the story, with only one speaking character for a majority of the film, the visuals are almost a second character, capable of really making the audience feel.

But ultimately, a film needs more than trippy vishuals maynnne, it needs a strong story, and the narrative here is still resonant and effective. Using a simple framing device of having a present day Pi narrate it to a young author, we get some great scenes of his early childhood and experimentation with love, family, nature, and most of all religion. The film, like the book makes a point to show how our characters uses aspects of Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism to inform his believes, which are important because they are repeatedly tested. Once our hero's boat crashes and he is stranded with the tiger, who goes by the name Richard Parker, the scenes of them learning to survive with one another are extremely rewarding. One would think that surviving on a lifeboat with a tiger would be impossible to film, but Lee and his team get it done with brilliant flying colors.

This film is an incredible treat for the eyes, heart, and soul and I highly highly recommend it. Don't wait for it on the small screen as the big screen 3D is the way to see it. It will make you believe in the power of the human spirit, the importance of faith, and in some ways, just how rewarding a trip to the movie theater can be.

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