Life of Pi

Director Ang Lee films the unfilmable and shows how grown-up 3D is done.
Rima Sabina Aouf
January 02, 2013


Many books are regarded as unfilmable because there's just too much going on. Man Booker Prize winner Life of Pi was regarded as unfilmable because the extent of the drama is a boy floating on the open ocean alone but for the company of a tiger.

Tenacious director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) has put paid to that question with his mesmerising adaptation that's also one of the most spectacular applications of 3D in contemporary cinema.

Pi (assured newcomer Suraj Sharma) is a boy of 16 for the main events of the story, his name short for Piscine Molitor Patel and inspired by a swimming pool. It's 1977 and his parents operate a zoo in French-influenced Pondicherry, India. But they decide to emigrate to Canada and sell the animals, some of which accompany them on the ocean journey to their new home. A storm sinks the ship, along with all on board besides Pi — and some of the animals. He finds himself sharing his lifeboat with a hyena, an orangutan, a zebra, and a tiger (called Richard Parker), and it's a long 227 days before he finds inhabited land.

It's also 211 of 354 pages of the novel — 211 pages for which he doesn't speak to another human. And yet it's never hard to read, nor, importantly, hard to watch. The framing of the narrative is done through an interview the adult Pi (Irrfan Khan) gives to the writer (Rafe Spall), but it's very cool that Lee and screenwriter David Magee tell the guts of the story without narration. It allows all the tension, uncertainty, and enigma of living in close quarters with a tiger to rule and lets both the acting and CGI shine.

The slipperiness of a magic realist world has also been beautifully translated. Pi's 227 days at sea include encounters with flying fish, luminous phenomena, and an island far from paradise as well as negotiating with his tiger friend, and each of these moments is stunning.

Some see Life of Pi as a 'proof of God' argument, which may put a few people off. It's not that; it's a graceful proof of why people believe in God, which is a different and welcome thing in a world where cross-spiritual understanding is not always abundant. No wonder distributors have chosen to release it in the flurry of self-improvement that comes with New Year.


Tap and select Add to Home Screen to access Concrete Playground easily next time. x