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One boy, one boat, one tiger, and one cinematic success!

Foxton pulls back the curtain on this year’s most visually enticing film as Ang Lee brings to life Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. From land to sea, human to tiger, despair to hope – this film is nothing short of a cinematic miracle. Ang Lee’s remarkable reworking of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, tells of the trials and tribulations of a young Indian boy following a tragic shipwreck. He is left in a solitary lifeboat, at the mercy of the wild waters of the Pacific. To make matters all the worse, throw a hungry Bengal tiger into the mix. The film expands into a sprawling parable of adaption, acceptance, and survival.

The long-awaited movie proves itself a phenomenal spiritual achievement – whose title could have been simplified to ‘Life’. Ang Lee, the Oscar-toting director of diverse cinematic marvels ranging from Brokeback Mountain to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon[footnoteRef:1], named a ‘chameleon’ among his contemporary filmmakers, here achieves a landmark of visual mastery. While Yann Martel’s tour de force was deemed by many readers to be unfilmable; this story is one of triumph over difficulties. [1: Ang Lee – IMDb ]

Pi (Suraj Sharma), a voracious follower, besotted with piety and infused with a godliness that has no doctrinal limit, finds his faith tested when the ship sinks in a nocturnal battle between steel and sea in a scene of beauty and terror. Pi escapes the ship for a floating ark home to an injured zebra, a dour organ-utan, a maniacal hyena, a fierce tiger, and Pi himself. The law of the jungle and desperate hunger ultimately reduce the boat’s population to two – boy, and tiger.

This tragedy strikes after the pleasant prologue where his childhood unfolds in this colorful setting described in the novel, adjusted with a hint of exoticism by Mychael Danna’s score and Claudio Miranda’s beautiful cinematography[footnoteRef:2]. While the veracity of Pi’s incredible tale is still up for debate, the unexpected bond between these two castaways provides the beating heart of Lee’s feature film, bringing Martel’s tale to life. [2: A. O. Scott]

The film is riddled with a bevy of special effects and weaves in 3D technology intricately and lyrically, considering huge chunks of the movie (including co-protagonist tiger, Richard Parker) are computer generated. Once thrust onto the big screen, the adaption received applause worldwide, but does the 3D element do Miranda’s filmography justice? Pi (Suraj Sharma) and the tiger battle over the day’s catch.

Whilst Lee engages modern audiences with a present-day reincarnation of the story, accompanied by cinematography and stunning 3D visuals that transport viewers straight into the Pacific, he does so not for the sake of gimmickry. We are long past the era where 3D is a novelty that moviegoers would pay to see for its own sake. The brutal truth, however, is if it doesn’t serve to creatively showcase the film it is no more worthy of your buck than the overpriced box of cinema popcorn. Blockbuster directors could take a lesson or two from Lee’s finesse in the exploitation of cinematic technology.

Lee taps into the realm of the third dimension to bring to the screen what cannot be ordinarily cinematically told; a world that exists somewhere between fantasy and adventure. He successfully marries the film’s photography and special effects in a seamless way that enriches each other. At one point, the audience moves between the point of view of a flying fish and then swings around to a front-on view, watching the fish navigate the bounds of the frame as it leaps straight out of the ocean – and screen, for that matter.

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Paying hefty prices for movie tickets, we expect no less than a manifestation of magnificence. Captivating kaleidoscopes of neon colors, phosphorescent phenomena, and lingering shots of vibrant landscapes – Life of Pi provides this and more! This is the product of Lee’s creative genius at work. Adapted from a novel with hardly any dialogue, the wonders of 3D become a tool that awes, with brilliant visuals that tell the story that is otherwise told by words in the book – communicating and underpinning Martel’s intrinsic philosophy. You don’t just watch this film – you live it.

The film conjures the infinite expanse in which the hero’s survival skills are put to use. Scenes of reflective, dreamlike qualities bring to life words on a page – particularly those in which he stares out to the horizon or deep into the sea. Likewise, the clever exploitation of a split screen is used to shift perspectives to tell different stories. Backgrounds and foregrounds are blended in a spectacular array of cinematic brilliance where the full depth of the screen is utilized. Particularly, to convey the passage of time – sample when Pi is documenting the details of his ordeal in his personal journal – juxtaposed alongside a montage of shots depicting his activities across that period. The same melty essence of scene transition rings true throughout the film, in which the 3D flawlessly meshes the layers of narrative, enhancing the lyrical quality of the film. While Martel left these scenes invisible, Lee’s mishmash of glimmering stars, bright hues, and deep ocean creatures, accompanied by the sounds of orchestras and choir, plunges us into the world of the two survivors. Bioluminescence in Life of Pi

However, the burning question of the Life of Pi has always been – ‘Which ending do you prefer?’ In Ang’s adaptation, Pi is bookended by an interview with a dubious writer who frames a tale of question marks. While many are disappointed that the film appears to give a more concrete version of events than the very open-ended book, it must be noted that the writer is only asked what he would prefer – not which he truly believes. Further, Pi himself never answers this question, instead leaving it to the writer, and by proxy, the audience, to decide for themselves. In this way, the ambiguity of the novel is maintained, without confusing casual moviegoers.

So what is the meaning of the book? In essence, it is a saga with many layers – religious, coming-of-age, the nature of the human spirit – and all of these elements have ardent proponents that theirs is the most important, the true meaning and purpose of the whole novel.

However, it seems Ang’s deepest interpretation of the original text is that Pi, and their companion Richard Parker, are an allegory of human nature, with the brutal tiger representing an element of Pi’s own nature, which is required to survive and brought out in extenuating circumstances – leaving him, without a second glance, when his trials are over. In this sense, Richard Parker is not a tiger, not a violent castaway, but instead a piece of Pi himself.

As the curtains close and the credits begin rolling, with heartstrings pulled and many tear-stained cheeks under 3D glasses – it is safe to say that Life of Pi is a feat in filmmaking.

This stunning visual spectacle would have been ‘mission impossible’ a decade ago – few films take pop cinema to a different realm of imagination altogether. It is as if Lee created something akin to a grand poem for the big screen fashioned with flare and artistic merit.

It is not just the ordeal that is brought to life, but the emotional bond between the castaways in this bewitching tale of adventure and mateship – and finding courage in the most unexpected circumstances. Many can leave happily after living Life of Pi.


    1. Scott, AO 2012, ‘Life of Pi,’ Directed by Ang Lee, viewed 27 October 2019, < pi-directed-by-ang-lee.html >
    2. Ang Lee – IMDb n.d., viewed 27 October 2019, < >

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