My first recommendation to any adult would be to watch this film alone- not with their noisy friends, or meddlesome children. The reason for this is simple – in order to totally submit oneself to the visual and spiritual experience delivered by the movie, one has to remain alone, just as Pi does for over two hundred days, being the only human stranded on the lifeboat. I believe this experience cannot be savored when one’s emotional response is dictated by the collective feeling of the group (just imagine sitting there holding back your tears because you do not want your friends to snicker at you. In spite of going alone, I was disturbed a couple of times by some people who were wowed by the lion ( it’s a tiger, for god’s sake!), so I’m glad I didn’t bring anyone with me who would have surely robbed me of the delight and wonderment that Life of Pi delivers.
The story of Pi’s journey of a lifetime begins with a enchantingly dreamy opening sequence showing animals, birds and reptiles of many kinds at a zoo. What’s so astonishing about this sequence is that you are so lost admiring the beauty of the animals shown without narration but with a soulful Indian classical music score that you pay no attention to the opening credits until the name of Ang Lee pops up more prominently at the end.
The first Pi that we see is probably in his forties and has already completed his journey long back. On his uncle’s insistence, he shares his life story with a writer. As the older Pi narrates his story, the camera inter-cuts between the present time and Pi’s childhood through fluid dissolves and morphs. We get to know why Pi is called Pi – a queer name for an Indian kid; we can make out that Pi is one curious boy who believes in exploring religion and spirituality and has a deep affinity to animals. A pivotal incident in his early days involving Richard Parker changes his attitude towards life and other matters that were consequential to him before. His family decides to move to Canada on a Japanese ship along with the zoo animals; an unexpected storm hits them on their journey and only Pi manages to hold on to the life boat… along with an injured zebra, a friendly orangutan, a cantankerous hyena and the mighty Richard Parker. What follows then is a deeply mesmerizing tale of courage, will to survive, perseverance, realization and ultimately – hope, which is what the world needs right now, hope.
Life of Pi is full of deep and important themes, and I can say, based on the experience I had in the theater, that more than three fourth of the audience were either i) oblivious to the metaphorical allusions or ii) not interested enough to get them. If you give adequate attention to the movie, you shall realize how important the element of water is the film; the swimming pool scene with Pi’s uncle, Piscine being named after the pool and the entire journey taking place in the ocean – all three incidents have the element of water in common. Why does Pi look closely at the ocean water and see his life flash before him? Is it a commentary of how fate works? What about the journey of Richard Parker and Pi? Is it only to show the relation between man and animal? Pi fears Parker and distances himself from his fear, only to confront and later conquer his fear (i.e. Parker) but not by destroying Parker but by developing an understanding with him (his fear). What does Pi gain from this journey?
Hope is the word I get whenever I search for answers, and isn’t hope required in this world, especially when you lose everything? And hasn’t this message been reiterated so many times after 7/11 and the financial crisis in USA? Obama‘s inaugural address when he was elected for the first time stressed on hope, films such as 127 hours channelize hope. It isn’t a surprise that Life of Pi has come this year and is doing well at the box office – people want films that carry the message of hope. And, I think Life of Pi teaches that you can get hope provided you have the will to survive and resist the temptation of an enclosed existence.
There are some standout scenes in Life of Pi which includes the opening scene, the storm scene, the moment Pi looks into the water wondering what Richard is looking intently at and the second storm scene. The third scene from above is especially noteworthy because of the way Ang Lee has filmed it – after the camera takes us underwater to get a view of Pi’s vision, it goes back to show Pi’s reaction for a second, and then, for about two seconds,cuts to the face of Richard Parker looking at him.This was one unforgettable moment that shook me completely. I’ve mentioned the second storm scene as a notable one as it gives us some minutes to reflect on whatever has happened in the film, and this is the point people should think instead of answering their cell phone calls ( person next to me).
Irfan Khan so honestly conveyed his sadness towards the end with not more than a teardrop. I really wished Suraj Sharma could do that instead of feigning grief by simply quivering his lips mechanically, speaking without conveying a sense of terrible isolation and not understanding fully the relevance of his character in the film. In many scenes, his eyes do not give us anything and he says important lines without hinting the subtext beneath them. It’s still a good job considering he has no prior acting experience.