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
Pi did a thesis on a Kabbalist called Luria. The ship that goes down, the Tzim Tzum, is named after a Kabbalistic term that means "The Concentration". See more »
When Adult Pi is telling the story, the camera is reflected in his eyes. 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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Every once in a while, a movie keeps you marveling at the beauty of its imagery while captivating your mind with its intellectual richness, "2001: A Space Odyssey" is such a movie where images speak a thousand words, so is "Life of Pi" with a difference though: it is pretty vocal about its content. To a certain degree, the film embodies the number 'Pi' whose mathematical function and simple writing are only the tip of an iceberg of infinite immensity.
Still, Ang Lee's "Life of Pi" is a delight for the eyes before the mind, a stunt even more impressive as 2012 eyes used to think they saw it all (3 years after "Avatar" and less than a decade after Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings"). Some shots reminded me of that line from "Forrest Gump" who was running across a desert and the morning light cast such a glow that he couldn't tell where Heaven stopped and the Earth began. And "Life of Pi" is fertile in such shots where you can't tell the limits between the sky and the water, and it is no coincidence that the story is a metaphysical quest à la Paolo Coelho, of a boy drifting across the Pacific Ocean with a tiger, of all the companions.
God is obviously the 'guy-up-there' incarnated by the skies and the stars and Pi addresses him many times by raising his head, but when the sky and the water seems to make one, which might imply that Pi can find God, or try to, by looking at the ocean or in the eye of his feline companion of misfortune. Pi was named after Piscine Molitor which was the most beautiful swimming pool his uncle ever swam in, and in the scene showing the Parisian pool, the water is so clear, the man feels like floating in the air, it is not just gratuitous effects but the display of a heavenly, ecstatic moment, where the body and the mind are in total symbiosis. This is how the uncle found God anyway.
To avoid the mockeries, Piscine calls himself 'Pi' and is so motivated that he becomes a champion of the Pi number and could memorize thousands of the decimal pieces, the cheers of his comrades making up for years of urological nicknames. But don't get mislead, the film is only about mathematics if you use the Galilean metaphor of the alphabet with which God wrote the universe. This is a language Pi is eager to decrypt, driven by his childlike curiosity, Hindu myths and Gods fascinate him, so does the story of Jesus Christ who died as an innocent for all the humans' sins, and he also finds peace and serenity while recalling the name of Allah during his prayers. Pi's ecumenical openness inevitably crashes into his father's rationality.
"Appa", a zoo owner, is a practical man who doesn't believe in religion, he eats meat and would rather have a son sticking to strong opinions rather than believing in everything, being as "irrational" and unlimited as the like-named number. So, it's the father who puts limits in his son's idealism where he sees him trying to feed the tiger (named Richard Parker), believing animals have soul. The father proves him wrong by tying a goat to the cage and showing him how the animals deal together. Animals have no souls, it is only the reflect of humans' soul, the metaphor for religion is obvious. We only see God through our own eyes, how ironic though that the father uses a sacrifice of such heavy religious undertones to make his point. As for Pi, the matters of God are forgotten for a time.
And it takes that extraordinary journey where he's stuck with the tiger and has to learn how to tame it, to feed it so it doesn't think of eating him, to state his presence, mark his territory, to establish a way to communicate with the animal, until finally, Pi concludes his metaphysical quest. The tiger becomes his enemy but also his ticket for life. I won't spoil right now how the adventure connects with God, but it is all done in that conclusive last rhetorical question, where Pi creates his own myth, which like all myths, explains a fact through a story that might sound ludicrous but whose universal appeal is undeniable. Because that's what myths are: stories that go beyond our own perceptions, that seems impossible yet challenge our thinking to such a point that their nonexistence seems as unbelievable as the opposite.
While I was watching the film, I was mesmerized by the special effects, the interactions between Pi and the tiger, even with the other animals. And I was almost disappointed to learn it was CGI, it didn't look like CGI to me, for some reason, it felt "plausible", too beautiful to be artificial. But maybe that is the ground broken by Ang Lee. In 1914, a man shared a screen with a dinosaur, in 1964 one danced with penguins, in 1988, one was handcuffed to a rabbit, in 1993, dinosaurs came back in the form of CGI creatures, their realness was undeniable but it still asked for our suspension of disbelief. "Life of Pi" is the only one where the animals are meant to be and look real, that the magic of the film would take a 'normal form' to better fool us.
Some would say that God was a creation by humans but maybe the idea of God is so beautiful that humans only tries to make it approachable, like God who used the figure of Jesus, or Muslims when they pray or Hindus with all their Gods. Maybe less than the form of God, is the idea itself, maybe Cinema is like religion or myths, after all, it is all about suspension of disbelief, but for a purpose that is essential to the human soul.
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