Monday 24 December 2012

Life of Pi (2012) - Ang Lee

What is the meaning of faith?  What is truth?  Is there a religious force that propels us through our lives, or are we bound to our animal instincts?

These are all questions posed by Life of Pi, based on the novel by Yann Martel.  Deeply philosophical, the narrative wraps up its metaphysical core in a simple story of an Indian boy (Pi - Suraj Sharma) lost at sea with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker after a shipwreck in the Pacific Ocean.  It's a story that resonates with the likes of Noah's Ark, Kipling's The Jungle Book and the poetry of William Blake.

Pi recounts his story to an author through flashbacks.  But how much of his story is true?  On telling a different story of the same series of events, Pi asks us "which story do you prefer?".  As with religion and faith, the story is a personal journey that each viewer will see differently.  In this respect it parallels religious writing - is this simply a fantastical tale, or is there truth in the extraordinary events?

Either way, this is a visually stunning, if dramatically ponderous, story.  Just as Pi is lost in the ocean, it's easy for the audience to become lost in a sea of metaphors, the religious connotations perhaps too much for some.  The narrative moves along like the still water lapping against Pi's lifeboat.  Certainly, this is not a film for children.

The slow pace does allow the audience to admire the visuals.  Would you expect anything less from Ang Lee?  The opening credits resemble a BBC documentary with its views of the Pondicherry zoo, the camera framing each species in sublime detail.  All that's missing is a David Attenborough commentary.  Once Pi arrives at sea, the golden hued water shimmers into the horizon, the stars are reflected in an endless curtain of night, and distant overhead shots cleverly mimic the cover of the novel.  The heavy use of CGI only serves to emphasise the magic of Pi's tale as he is visited by wildlife.  Colour saturates each frame, vibrance radiating from the screen in a warm glow.  It must be noted that in 3D this colour is considerably diminished by the dark glasses, though Lee's artistic vision still shines through.

Life of Pi may not be the most exciting of films, but the phrase 'thought-provoking' doesn't even begin to cover it.  At the least, this film is a must-see for the visuals alone.