Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Movie Review: Life of Pi

Title: Life of Pi
Director: Ang Lee
Year Released: 2012
Running Time: 158 minutes
Classification: PG-13 (M)
Genre: Drama, Magic Realism

Life of Pi tells the story of a boy who survives a shipwreck only to find himself sharing a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. A tad unbelievable, perhaps, but that's the whole point. This is meant to be an epic, spiritual journey – one, which we are told, will make us believe in God. Now, I couldn't help but have high hopes for this film, given its celebrated director, prize-winning book, stunning trailer and great reviews, and I was ready to be a sucker and *~believe~*. Unfortunately, I walked away feeling slightly but distinctly unsatisfied.

Things start off well enough. The visuals are stunning from the get-go, with a vivid palette and adorable HD zoo animals. But as I saw more and more of the writer (Rafe Spall) and adult Pi (Irfan Khan), I felt myself deflate. The use of the interview as a framing technique seemed to work well enough in the book, but here it felt limiting and more than a bit contrived – rather than letting the story speak for itself, we are told, on no uncertain terms, that we are about to embark on a ~journey of faith~.

Perhaps it's because I sat in a bad spot in the cinema, but what ensued was not especially captivating. The early discussions on religion are superficial but heavy-handed and the acting somewhat stilted. As such, the retelling of Pi's childhood seems to drag on (get to the tiger already!) and I failed to connect with the character and his beliefs.

Things get better once Pi is played by Suraj Sharma and the ocean voyage begins in earnest. His plight is terrifying yet so absurd that it isn't so much frightening as it is surreal. The vast expanses of ocean and sky only accentuate the dream-like atmosphere. Speaking of, the visuals live up to the hype. They are, simply put, very spectacular; the tiger looks very life-like and the scenery is gorgeous. It's possibly the most beautiful movie I've ever seen and is worth watching for the graphics alone. Pi's strange adventures on the ocean are easily the best part of the film – in survival mode, Pi becomes easier to relate to and you get a sense of his joy, his awe and his despair. As a bonus, everything looks magnificent, but I think I may have mentioned that already.

At the end we're confronted with the question of what to believe and the answer, supposedly, will affirm our faith. At this point, my good spirits withered away. Especially given the shallow treatment of faith and religion at the start of the film, I found this turn of events to be somewhat of a let-down and a reminder of the things I should have felt but didn't. Where I had previously enjoyed this as a story about a Boy and his Tiger, it all now felt a bit hollow. I can't quite remember feeling this way with Yann Martel's book, so I'm not sure whether the problem lies in the tale or its telling.

Many have found Life of Pi to be marvellously uplifting, but I'm afraid I hold with the less favourable reviews. Certainly it is impressive on a technical level and certainly it is a unique tale to have been brought on screen. Pi's adventures with the tiger are indeed wondrous, but alone, they are incapable of carrying the whole narrative. The film's key flaw is that it fails to give substance to its own spiritual aspirations – but clearly, it seems, many would disagree entirely.

Alex's Rating: 3/5

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