Life of Pi

So, on the one hand, I had iffy feelings about seeing the movie Life of Pi, due to a sort of New Age-y feel, while on the other, I had Sue SkyBluez saying I should read the book before seeing the movie. As a result, I waffled till it left theaters.

But then it came back. And, as always, during award season, potential winners persist. And persist. And persist. And I finally had to come to the realization that: a) I wasn’t going to read the book any time soon, if ever (I’m really a pre-1950 guy, literature-wise); b) I had kids who wanted to go to the movies.

And, to my delight, this turned out to be my kind of movie. Pi, the lead character, is an interesting fellow, very Indian in his pursuit of religion (while his father and brother are atheist), meeting God through Hinduism, then Christianity, then Buddhism. I get why this could annoy people but it’s not as squishy as it sounds.

The story really gets moving when Pi’s father has to relocate his zoo (long story), and after a wild storm, Pi ends up on a raft with an assortment of animals, most notably a tiger. Now, this seems rather improbable, and while I thought the tiger was going to reach an understanding with Pi, it pretty much wants to eat him for the rest of the movie.

So, on the one hand, you have a fabulous (in the sense of being a fable) situation, but on the other, there’s a literalness to the proceedings, as Pi struggles to keep the tiger, and himself fed. I really liked the way the film teases your perceptions of reality, essentially daring you to believe in it, but also fighting against sentimentalism that would cause you to dismiss it as pure fantasy.

At times, it reminded me of The Little Prince, but never for very long. I found the third act resolution satisfying, though it probably raised more questions than it answered.

As someone who has defended Ang Lee over some dubious movies (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hulk) but gave up around Brokeback Mountain even going to see his films, it’s good to see him tackle something that seems to be in his wheelhouse. He has the right touch for this subject matter, though at (fortunately brief) times the CGI is about at Hulk quality.

Always nice to see Irfan Khan, who plays the elder Pi here, in a flick. (You probably know him from such films as Slumdog Millionaire and Darjeeling Limited.) The beautiful Tabu (who was in The Namesake with Khan—there are only so many Indian actors with crossover appeal, I guess) plays Pi’s mother. Gerard Depardieu has what is essentially a cameo as a vulgar French cook.

This is the sort of movie that you can talk about a lot afterwards, as it invites you to challenge yourself about what you saw (or thought you saw), but doing so would be completely spoiler-rific, so I shan’t do that here. What’s cool is that it manages to be entertaining in the process, and  you can take it as literally as you like—the Flower’s preference—or turn over what things might mean.

In other words, there’s a lot here about knowledge, faith and the pursuit of understanding about God, but only if you want it. You could think of it as Cast Away, only with a tiger instead of a soccer ball, if you want.

A pleasant moviegoing experience. Not for young children, despite the whimsical presence of a tiger on a lifeboat, but The Flower (who’s eleven now) enjoyed it, as did The Boy.

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