By Robert Dean
Life of Pi is a triumphant return for Taiwanese-born American director Ang Lee and once again confirms him as one of Hollywood’s most creative and versatile directors. The Academy Award winner, whose previous work includes Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain, masterfully adapts Yann Martel’s Booker Prize-winning novel, of the same name, for the big screen in one of the year’s most memorable films.
The story starts with an unnamed writer (Rafe Spall), presumably intended to be Yann Martel himself, going to meet a man to discuss a story which he was told would make him “believe in god”. This is the first time we are introduced to Piscine Molitor Patel in his adult guise, played by Irrfan Khan.
The story then focuses on Piscine as a young Indian boy battling with issues of religion and faith. After classmates tease him by changing his name to “Pissing” he develops an obsession for the mathematical concept of Pi, and this becomes his new nickname. Pi’s childhood is played by 3 different actors, Gautam Belur as a five year old, Ayush Tandon as an 11 year old and Suraj Sharma, who takes the lead role in the film as a 16 year old.
His Father, Santosh (Adil Hussain), is a zoo owner who is forced to move his family and his business to Canada. The boat they were on has a fatal accident, which causes it to sink and only he and four of his father’s zoo animals – a Bengal tiger, a zebra, an orang-utan and a hyena – make it onto a life boat.
The movie then becomes an epic story of survival with Pi spending 227 days battling against rough waters, lack of supplies and, of course, finding a way to cohabit with a Bengal tiger on a small dinghy. During these scenes Pi finds comfort in his hybrid religion of Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. As a young child he could never decide which religion to settle on so instead drew on the teachings he liked from each.
Whilst at sea the viewers are treated to some spectacular visual displays which are complimented beautifully by the use of 3D technology. Scenes such as a whale jumping out of the water or a sea that is completely illuminated by jellyfish are really awe inspiring. With 3D at the risk of becoming a gimmick, this film really shows how it can enhance a story when used properly.
The film, rather frustratingly, ends with an alternative account of what he has just described, which leaves audiences questioning the reality of the tale. I am sure for some this added to the sense of mystery, but for me it just left a frustrating, niggling doubt over what was a wonderful piece of escapism.