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Jul 13, 2013

Review: Life of Pi (2012)

           Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Tabu, Adil Hussain, Rafe Spall, Ayush Tandon, Gautam Belur, Gerard Depardieu, Po-Chieh Wang, Shravanthi Sainath, Andrea Di Stefano, Vibish Sivakumar, Mohamed Abbas Khaleeli and Ayan Khan


                   Ang Lee


                 A movie that has a boy surviving a shipwreck, stranded in the middle of an ocean on a lifeboat with a few animals including a tiger. There is the background of that boy shown and how he grew up and then there is this incident which leaves him on the mercy of the nature. Seems like a simple adventure movie isn't it? What "Life of Pi" actually does is explore the themes that no one else would dare to do so on such a big scale. I mean spirituality, faith in something, exploration of one's existence, nature and its relation with man, these are some of the few themes that people just can't stand seeing on big screens because they are very "preachy" as they say. Religion is one thing, spirituality is another, faith can be on anything and exploration isn't just about finding meaning in your life. I can't really applaud the great Ang Lee enough. He is someone who like Steven Spielberg, i love and respect as a filmmaker because he have tried his hands on every kind of style and genre and more effectively so. There is something about a filmmaker trying to insert his own sense of style in various kind of film genres. And then there are filmmakers who keep on exploring a single theme throughout their career. I love both of these kind of filmmakers because in both cases, they either do what they want to or they try in doing various things there way. Not those filmmakers who just makes movies for money and keep on doing that, making bad movies with no sense of purpose. Ang Lee himself is a very humble person, it can be quite easily viewed in his interviews, the way he talks and the way he treats everyone else. In these modern times, its very hard to see movies that kind of reflect what that person really is. Ang Lee and his movies are just wonderful to watch. Brokeback Mountain, which i consider as one of the greatest movies ever made. A western style love story between two men filled with so many various emotions and beauty that its overwhelming at certain moments. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon is another example of epic filmmaking, the eastern martial art films taken to another level of poetic filmmaking with acute craft. He have tried his hands on simple drama, costume drama, superhero movie, comedy and what not. With Life of Pi, he brought us a movie that would have been really hard to imagine ever making it to the big screen if it wasn't for him. He deservingly so won the Oscar for best director among other great nominees. His movies have never won an Oscar even if he won the second time last year. But nevertheless, awards these days are the last thing you want to associate with the "greatness" of the movie. You have to rely on your own self and the beauty you see in someones work.

                 Life of Pi is a 3D adventure drama that is adapted from the best-selling 2001 novel of the same name by Yann Martel. The movie begins with the adult Pi (Irrfan Khan) being approached by a novelist who was referred by a family friend of Pi's because he has a life story that is worth writing. Pi lives in Canada having immigrated from India. Thus begins a slew of flashbacks that covers his lifetime, from the very childhood to where he is now. Whimsical, painful, problematic, life-changing but that is how life is isn't it? Pi was named Piscine Molitor by his parent but he changed his name to Pi. He was very good in studies but was often taunted for his name. There are much more details about Pi and his family and early life that you can see in the movie. Pi's family used to own a zoo with lots of animals in it. Pi's interest was in a tiger named Richard Parker. From they very childhood, Pi wasn't just a normal boy. He would question everything, will search for the answers and just explore the beauty that there is in life without really caring for anything else. He was raised a Hindu but he was drawn towards Christianity and Islam as well for the simple purpose of being near to and to love God. Like a normal boy he grew up in those streets with the same feelings and experiences that other boys go through. His father decides to close the zoo and move the family to Canada while selling all the animals to ensure his family's good future. Pi is 16 now. On the freighter one night, Pi wakes up and finds out that there is a huge storm that is rocking the ship. Eventually the ship begins to sink and before he can find his family, he is put in a lifeboat by one of the crew. He helplessly watches the ship sink in the rough sea that kills his family and the crew. Up until then, the movie gives you a glimpse of India in all its rich cultural, natural and religious beauty. A curious boy growing up between all this, encountering various things with a boyhood wonder. From there to the sea where the life changing incident happens and he is left alone. It is indeed narrated and shown in a simple way but is carefully thought. It does gets a bit uninteresting in parts mainly because of the dialogue and everything superficial but nothing much that spoils the viewing. Of course its all so beautiful to look at, right from the start. The beginning of the movie has a beautiful look at the zoo while the Oscar nominated song "Pi's Lullaby" is being played.

                Life of Pi takes an entirely different turn, something that the people who are unaware of the book or the themes wouldn't expect. Pi is a very interesting character, his intrigues and "search" for something bigger than him is what makes him so interesting. So its not quite impossible that in such unbelievably horrific times when he is stranded in the middle of an ocean, he would turn to something or someone bigger than him. This is the part of the movie which should have come off as boring and bland but its the exact opposite here. The movie struck me with its visually magnificent creation of ocean life. The animals, the wonders of nature, the spirit of human being, the hallucinations, the reality, the magic, the spirituality, the self-realization. All of these themes beautifully carried out with the best use of technology with masterful direction that one could find. Pi finds out that he is not alone on the lifeboat but he has a zebra, orangutan, hyena and Mr Richard Parker! The scene where he "learns" how nature works, the life-cycle of organisms, the dependency on one another for survival, the destructive and constructive nature, is just powerful. Never did different animals in one place for a short time, while we watch them eat each other out, felt so damn effective. Pi slowly learns how to survive, he has the knowledge, he learns things from his experience and his determined nature helps him a lot. No matter how weak you are or how helpless you think of yourself, in situations like these, you just find a way or at least try the best you can because its in all of us. The many encounters that Pi has along the way, we being put up right in the middle of it all, feels so real and unreal at the same time. Unreal because you haven't ever seen anything like this. Lee weaves a magical trip along with his cinematographer and music composer that just stuns and shocks. The scene in the night with phosphorescent whale, the flying fish sequence, the storm sequence or that wonderful scene where Tiger "shows" Pi the beautiful vision and other small moments makes up for an adventurous, spiritual, moving and otherworldly experience. It does seems to be happening in some other dimension, definitely not this one. These moments reaches the epitome at the "alive island" sequence that further shows the beauty/fragility/mystery of nature. Wonders are everywhere, naturally there are things that one can't even imagine being there. The same can be said for human beings, the complicated nature of our being and functioning. Our whole existence is a mystery, you have to delve deep inside yourself to at least discover them.

                Ang Lee's direction is very careful, delicate, observing and absorbing in this film. There is a certain depth that Lee always makes us feel through the journey, i personally kept on thinking without being distracted from the movie about why that thing was there and how is it important or what it actually signifies. David Magee wrote the movie, his contribution i personally find a bit underwhelming. I can see his input in parts that is either half-realized or has less of an impact than the images do. But the latter part is the strongest point, thus that flaw doesn't really comes in between the fun. It feels a bit lacking but never really that off-putting. Claudio Miranda's photography is magical. Luminous, sweeping, focused, still and just breathtaking. The close-ups or the distant shots, each have something to say and every moment is a wonder to behold. Direction, gorgeous photography, fascinating control of the subject and themes and add to that, the intoxicating score by Mychael Danna. Ethereal and transcending is the word i would use for the score. The way it soothes its way through your ears, it seems to be almost touching your soul. Whether its a significant moment or just a still, slow-burn, Danna always finds a way to have a strong melody set for the particular moment. I also can't praise the visual effects enough. Wow! that tiger looked so real. The visuals as i said were astonishing. Wonderful use of effects. The actors are very well casted. Of course you have most of the time spent with Suraj Sharma and he is the best one among the cast. A young student suddenly playing such a big part and in such a convincing manner. He in his own way is able to portray the coming and going of agony, wonder, doubt and grief that the character goes through. His characterization is perfectly handled, his journey and everything else that it has brought to him. I mean its not just about the grand themes, everything he feels or thinks about is quite real.

                 Life of Pi isn't a movie about religion, never does ti tries to be one. Its spiritual but not faith-based, it fully embodies a human being and his desire to touch the greatness that lies ahead or that exists beyond the imagination. Pi has a big place in his heart for God, like a normal human being he stumbles. Pi waits for the "light" that will guide him through the rough times. Pi has questions that he can't really grasp and asks God, awaits for his answer. There are moments in the movie where the lines seems to get blurred and quite correctly. The questions are big, the answers seems hazy. What you see sometimes is beyond what you and me can really understand. I personally have a firm believe in God and his wonders. He created us, gave us enough sense, intelligence, superiority and conscious that we can make our decisions and have an effect on our life. Action has a reaction, you can't literally take everything that happens into your life or with you as what the higher power is enforcing on you. Faith is something you can have on anything, the kind that you have on yourself is something that feels accurate, if that is the word that correctly explains what i am trying to say. The things that you see happening in front of you that are beyond your control or imagination, does eventually makes you think about who is behind them. This is what Pi is fascinated with and this is what equally fascinates us during the movie. Everything you see in it can be literally real or something that one makes up or is shown. They either did happened or didn't but it is that "in-between" part that always puzzles us. I don't think that the movie is telling us anything significant or trying to prove something. But it fully embodies that spiritual journey into beyond which unless really experienced, none of us can fully understand. The blend of spiritualism, surrealism, realism, fantasy, survival and technology was never this much powerful. Its effortless in that sense, it seems to be really doing that in convincing way. Which is something that always makes the audience question how they are able to pull off such things? Who said that the book couldn't be adapted? Ang Lee made it happen. Life of Pi is beautiful, moving, transcending, powerful and lyrical exploration of human beings, nature and everything else that makes us question the simplicity or complexity of life and its importance. Adventurous beyond adventure and moving beyond emotions.

Grade: A-