Set mostly on a boat in the middle of the ocean with only a teenager and a tiger onboard, Life of Pi is a visual masterwork even if it is a somewhat hollow experience. Life of Pi is probably the most religious film I have seen in a while (even if it centers on almost all the religions of the world) but that doesn’t mean it works for only a select audience. When stripped down to its bare bones, Life of Pi is a brilliant survival story and a visual masterpiece. Ang Lee’s craft for telling a story and Pi’s sweeping visuals are what saves a movie that seems like it could cave in on itself at any moment.
Life of Pi begins with the introduction to a very interesting fellow named Pi. Starting in the present and going back to the past, Pi retells his life story to a Canadian author. Pi starts his story when he was a child and his unique interest in practicing all the religions he comes across. In some really cool opening scenes we see Pi learning about Christianity, Hinduism, and the Muslim faith. This is one of the more enjoyable parts of the movie where the wonder of religion is alive and well. Instead of trying to preach about each sect of religion, Life of Pi wades in the shallow end with sweeping visuals that show the power of belief. A closing zoo and a trip to Canada later we get to the true meat of the film, which is a survival story of a boy and a tiger. Beautifully shot and beautifully paced, Life of Pi’s scenes on the ocean are the reason why I came to the movie and the main reason why I liked it so much. Ang Lee has made many visually dazzling movies but Life of Pi is his most daring one to date. There are some very memorable scenes like a whale at night and a floating Venus Flytrap but the most memorable image is just of a boy and a tiger trying to share the same boat.
With out giving away too much, Life of Pi contains a semi twist at the end of the movie. It is not so much of a twist as it is a moment that complicates the events of the film. It is an ending that asks the audience to take a leap of faith and a type of storytelling convention that is suppose to prove to the audience the existence of the divine or “faith”. The movie fails at doing so because its very narrative structure is the opposite of faith. Instead of trying to make the viewers believe in a story they haven’t seen, they ask the audience to believe in a story that was fully visualized for them; faith works the other way around. Such an ending only works if you’re able to indulge in the logic of the filmmakers but for me it just didn’t work. If you want to prove the existence of God then you need to be smarter than a nursery rhyme.
The most exciting aspect of the movie is the relationship that blooms between the boy, Pi, and the Tiger, Robert Parker. Instead of showing a boy and a tiger growing and bonding together, you see a boy trying to tame a wild animal. This is like an extreme Grizzly Man as Pi tries to find the heart in the wild beast. Juxtaposing the very nature of a killer and the morals of an intelligent mind is the best part of the movie thematically. The relationship between the two evolves on screen in a moving and ambiguous sort of way that climaxes in one of the more heartbreaking moments of the film.
Whether or not if you are shaken by the film or if it gives you a good laugh, Life of Pi is an interesting enough movie to warrant its outstanding visuals. Ang Lee is a strong filmmaker and even if this movie doesn’t stack up to his other great films (Brokeback Mountain, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) it is another solid movie to add to his growing catalogue. Glued together with the magic of the cinema, Pi is a movie that works best at the surface level because if you really ask yourself which story you believe, well…., I think you might surprise yourself.