Review: Life of Pi


Ang Lee must be one of the most diverse directors of his generation. If he were playing genre bingo, he’d be a winner many times over. And in one sense he has, having raked in eight Oscars for three of his films: Sense and Sensibility, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and the socially impacting Brokeback Mountain. The only predictable aspect of Lee’s career is that he’ll be unpredictable in what he tackles next.

Life of Pi is Lee’s first 3D feature film, and for someone new to the technology, he does an incredible job. To put some personal perspective to this, I have to declare that I’m not the biggest fan of 3D. So when I found myself completely absorbed into the spectacle, I actually forgot I was wearing those plastic hipster-shades on the front of my nose.

The film starts off, with our grown up Pi (Irrfan Khan) telling his story to an American author (Rafe Spall) that “will make him believe in God”. He begins in the tranquil southern Indian city of Pondicherry, where his childhood is dominated by the Zoo his family curates. Pi, a shortening of Piscine, is named after the Parisian swimming baths at the Piscine Molitor, which his Uncle regarded worthy of a pilgrimage. Here we are introduced to a recurring theme of purity and nirvana, as his uncle describes the clear waters blurring the line between earth and the reflecting sky, giving him a sense of clarity and freedom. Lee calls back to this dream-like state on several occasions throughout the movie, utilising the 3D technology to full affect.

Just as Pi is experiencing his first love, his family is forced to close down the zoo and up sticks to Canada, shipping the zoos animals with them, on-board the Japanese freighter, The Tsimtisum. The ship encounters a storm and, for an undisclosed reason, begins to sink. In the panic of the moment Pi is thrown into a life boat, which breaks free from the sinking ship and casts him adrift. The calm after the storm reveals that he is not alone and is sharing the life raft with a few survivors of the zoo’s cargo hold; an injured Zebra, Hyena, Orangutan and a Tiger.

What follows is a story of survival and how the mind can bend the truth and experience of a traumatic event to help us cope. As much as Pi might be telling the author, interviewing him, about a story that will “make him believe in God”, he’s also revealing the coping mechanism available to us when dealing with life’s struggles. This is portrayed brilliantly by Ricky Gervais’s The Invention of Lying, were he makes up the concept of a life after death, to comfort his dying mother. Others may take away from it the opposite meaning, re-affirming their belief in a higher power. Essentially Lee and the author, Yann Martel, are saying that both paths in life can be taken, as they will ultimately lead to the same place.

I’ve spoken to a few friends who’ve read Martel’s prize winning book and all of them have said the same thing: “How could this possibly be made into a film?” Now I’ve not read the book myself, but I can see why they might think that. Using real animals would have been a nightmare and CGI animals could have turned out horrendously. But the CGI animals, in Pi, is now closer to reality than ever before, allowing Lee to fully realise Martel’s vision on screen.

I’d recommend not asking your friends about the story and avoid spoilers at all cost, it’ll just add to the experience if you go in blind. Life of Pi and Avatar are probably the only two films to utilize the 3D technology to the benefit of the audience, rather than some gimmick to increase ticket sales. I highly recommend it for a family cinema outing this holiday.

Grade: B+



  1. […] Ang Lee is proving yet again that he is one of the most versatile directors out there. I only just wrote  review for this which you can check out here [FULL REVIEW] […]

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