I read Life of Pi after the book won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2002, and was struck (in a good way) by the philosophical content of the fiction. Embarrassingly, I have to say that the book is included in the list of half-reads: those that I enjoy but did not have the stamina to finish at the time. However, of the part that I did read, a passage has remained with me all through the years – the philosophical question about freedom by contrasting zoos and religion. That part is deeply ingrained in my mind so I had been excited and yet apprehensive at the same time when I heard that a movie translation would be released on New Year’s Day here in Australia.
Hearing that Ang Lee is the director of the movie eases my apprehension – the talented director is behind Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon andBrokeback Mountain, among others. I saw an interview of him in a local channel and was impressed on how thoughtful he was with his approach to the movie – and this made me eager to see the movie especially after hearing that the critics are generally favourable towards the movie.
I watched it today, on New Year’s Day on the earliest session at the cinema at 10.00am, after staying up after midnight on New Year’s Eve. Call me eager – or silly.
Let me start by saying that the movie is an exquisite visual feast – the 3D aspect of the movie is by no means gimmicky. Ang Lee manages to turn the technology to support his vision to turn a philosophical, internal story into something that is amazing to watch and experience. Some of the philosophical questions posed in the book are there in the movie as well – but those of you who are turned off by heavy concepts or discussions, should not shirk away from the movie. Go and see it as you will be rewarded by the movie. Truly, the movie is a gem!
The story is about Piscine Molitor (played by various actors: Gautam Belur, Ayush Tandon, and Irrfan Khan) – who prefers to shorten his name to a mathematical symbol of Pi after being relentlessly teased at school for his unusual name. His name is based on a swimming pool in France – but nobody in Pondicherry, the French part of India where Pi and his family reside, appreciates the name for what it represents. Pi’s father manages a zoo in the city and with funds running out, he opts to migrate to Canada to start a life with his wife and two sons: Pi and Ravi. Tragedy strikes when the ship carrying the whole family as well as the animal cargo sinks over the Mariana Trench. Pi survives on a lifeboat along with a zebra, an orang-utan, a zebra, and Richard Parker – a name that is given to a Bengal tiger. How he survives the ordeal physically and internally until he reaches land in Mexico is central to the story. What seems to be mundane – where-nothing-actually-happens – is turned into a visual and almost sensory feast, especially with the 3D images. Ang Lee has done this before by turning a short story into a major movie with Brokeback Mountain. If you have a chance, definitely go to the 3D screening, where you will be rewarded.
Life of Pi certainly doesn’t disappoint – in the hand of a masterful director, this has turned into a touching, enriching and thoughtful movie. It’s philosophical without being heavy, it’s funny and heartwarming without being silly – a genuinely luscious cinematic feast.