I'm a freelance writer living and working in Melbourne. I'm into film, food, beaches, books, and outdoor stuff.
Published January 14th 2013
How to live on a boat with a tiger
Life of Pi was a novel before it was a movie, the Man Booker-winning brain-child of Canadian author Yann Martel. The book, in its time and in every high school English class since, is a revelation. So what does Ang Lee's movie bring to the story?
I'm happy to report that the movie is a perfect compliment to the novel. It adds, it stands alone, but mostly it is faithful. The film (and book) begin with the framing story of a desperate Canadian novelist in search of a story. He finds it in Piscine 'Pi' Patel, who has a story that will make him believe in God.
There's an extended introduction to the Patel family and their zoo in the French-Indian town of Pondicherry. Then the inevitable: Pi (Suraj Sharma) loses his entire family in a ship-wreck and is stranded alone on a lifeboat, with only an adult male Bengal tiger for company. What follows is a gripping story of survival and, just maybe, faith.
One of the deligh's of Martel's novel is its layering of language, story and theme. Ang Lee develops his own astonishing visual language. From the opening credits we are challenged to enter a world of computer-generated animals and live action, with a playful tour of the zoo and its animals. When things get serious the CGI continues to hold its own. The tiger is terrifying, and the waves might make you seasick - even in 2D.
Life of Pi may look grandiose and full of spectacle, but Lee's use of imagery is more intimate. There are lingering scenes of Pi and the tiger, with only the tiger's roar as a soundtrack. Every spectacle has its purpose - so a breaching whale destroys a food supply, a spectacular storm at sea removes a sanctuary. The many moods of the ocean's surface are breathtaking. Watch out for a very beautiful reference to the book's original cover.
You don't need to have read the book. Certainly it will be more surprising if you haven't. But if you have the movie is still full of delights and surprises.