A young man who survives a disaster at sea is hurtled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery. While cast away, he forms an unexpected connection with another survivor: a fearsome Bengal tiger.
In Canada, a writer visits the Indian storyteller Pi Patel and asks him to tell his life story. Pi tells the story of his childhood in Pondicherry, India, and the origin of his nickname. One day, his father, a zoo owner, explains that the municipality is no longer supporting the zoo and he has hence decided to move to Canada, where the animals the family owns would also be sold. They board on a Japanese cargo ship with the animals and out of the blue, there is a storm, followed by a shipwrecking. Pi survives in a lifeboat with a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena and a male Bengal tiger nicknamed Richard Parker. They are adrift in the Pacific Ocean, with aggressive hyena and Richard Parker getting hungry. Pi needs to find a way to survive.Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
In the novel, it is not Pi's father that says "Religion is Darkness", it is a teacher who survived polio. See more »
When the ship rolls in the storm, the bedroom where Pi and his brother are sleeping is perfectly still. See more »
So, you were raised in a zoo?
Adult Pi Patel:
Born and raised. In Pondicherry, in what was the French part of India. My father owned the zoo, and I was delivered on short notice by a herpetologist, who was there to check on the Bengal monitor lizard. Mother and I were both healthy, but the poor lizard escaped and was trampled by a frightened cassowary. The way of karma, huh? The way of God.
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''I had to tame him,'' (Pi) realizes. ''It was not a question of him or me, but of him and me. We were, literally and figuratively, in the same boat." From Life of Pi by Yann Martel.
You will see no more imaginative film this year than Life of Pi, whose conceit of a young Indian boy stranded with a Bengal Tiger in a lifeboat amid the Pacific Ocean is fantastical yet real in its metaphoric implications. While the framing device of a story told to a stranger uses the old flashback, the lonely lifeboat is as new as any story told in the last century.
The film begs interpretation from the multiplicity of religions to the place of mankind in a hostile, Darwinian world. Ultimately the benign brotherhood of beasts and humans is affirmed not so much by lofty philosophy but by the necessity of man and beast working together to survive.
The digital rendering of animals, especially the Bengal Tiger, is beautiful to behold. The opening scene in Pi's family zoo could be right out of Terence Malick's visionary camera, a montage of nature gorgeous in its simplicity. The several formalistic shots of the boat at night are worthy of the best lighting in the best aquariums in the world. Together with the impressive use of 3D, director Ang Lee has visually taken us from the opulence of Crouching Tiger and the minimalism of Brokeback Mountain into a fusion world of fancy and reality. The images are stunning.
In the end, Lee is interested in the individual's place in the universe as he struggles to harness nature and yet live in harmony with these elements. The conflict with the gross cook aboard the Japanese cargo ship taking Pi's family and animals to Canada is emblematic of the challenges facing the gifted with the groundlings. Pi's relationship with tiger "Richard Parker" represents all mankind's struggle to live in harmony with the forces it cannot control.
"Believing in everything is the same as believing in nothing," says Pi's father because Pi samples religions from Hinduism and Buddhism to Catholicism and Judaism and wants them all. Although it is not given to us to have them all, Pi's piety practically makes us believers in the universal brotherhood.
The Life of Pi is everyone's life; the film is one of the best of the year and, even remembering the greatness of The Old Man and the Sea, Moby Dick, and Billy Budd, the best you will ever see about a boy, a tiger, and a boat.
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