Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Yann Martel, Life of Pi was initially courted by M. Night Shyamalan, Alfonso Cuaron and Jean-Pierre Jeunet before Ang Lee took on the task of filming a seemingly unfilmable book. A Canadian author (Rafe Spall) is sent in search of a mysterious Indian-born Canadian called Pi (Irrfan Khan) because he’s told that he has a story that will make him believe in God. Pi begins to tell the story of his upbringing in India and the day his father decided to move to Europe to sell the animals from their zoo and the resultant boat sinking that leaves teenage Pi (Suraj Sharma) stranded in the Pacific Ocean with a dangerous Bengal tiger called Richard Parker.
Framed within a flashback narrative, Life of Pi is broken down into three distinct sections: Pi’s early childhood, his trials and tribulations on boat at sea and the resolution. The opening is a spritely, fun family film complete with bright, beautiful colours and rich French-Indian locales. The early revelation of how Pi came by his name is amusing and entertaining and his dabbles in all the major world religions helps ground the future action. Following the sinking of his transport vessel, which is reminiscent of Titanic, but with added whimsy and jaw-dropping beauty, Life of Pi really comes into its own.
Young lead Suraj Sharma finds himself shouldering all of the acting responsibilities and being sensational throughout. His desperate attempts to stay hydrated, fed and alive while negotiating with the mainly CG tiger lead to some of Life of Pi‘s most wonderful moments. Ang Lee has always had an eye for a beautiful vista, but he more than excels here. You cant help but be mesmerised by the rich aquatic scenes from sun-blushed mirrored water to luminescent night-time shots. Even the less grandstanding scenes with the boat in the centre of a simple ocean shot or the long-range shot of the desperate flare shot are incredible. If there’s a better looking film in the next year it’ll be a surprise. Even the 3D, an often maligned medium for film, is employed to startling effect and trumps Avatar to be the best use of the technology thus far. Early reports of the death of 3D may well be reconsidered after Life of Pi.
Those who have read Life of Pi will understand the importance and impact of the ending, but for everyone else it is one of the most moving, left-field realisations in years. Made all the more poignant by Sharma’s performance and Khan’s Voice-over the final scenes will stay with you long after the credits as will the visual poetry created by Ang Lee in what must be his best film to date as he takes the impossible and makes it not only probable, but believable. Life of Pi makes you believe in life, beauty and the indomitable spirit of humanity.