Irrfan Khan as Older Pi
Gérard Depardieu as Frenchman
Suraj Sharma as Pi Patel
Rafe Spall as The Writer
Tabu as Pi's Mother
Adil Hussain as Pi's Father
Shravanthi Sainath as Pi's Girlfriend
Ayush Tandon as Young Pi
Andrea Di Stefano as The Priest
Gautam Belur as Young Pi (at 5 years)
Ayan Khan as Pi's Younger brother
Vibish Sivakumar as Ravi Patel
Directed by Ang Lee
"Life of Pi" features some amazing visual effects and bold discussion of religion, but a trippy third act and a conclusion left too far open to interpretation drag the film down. Parents will want to use caution when taking young kids due to intense scenes with the tiger.
"Life of Pi" is based on the novel by Yann Martel.
As a young boy, Piscine Molitor Patel grew up at an Indian zoo. Preferring to be called "Pi," he was also fascinated by religion – all religion. He marveled at the superhero-like gods of Hinduism. He was enthralled by the sacrifice of Jesus in Christianity and he was drawn to the ritual of prayer in Islam. His atheist father indulged his studies, but with one caveat – believe in something. Anything.
Before Pi could draw his own conclusions about the meaning of life, his family closed the zoo and took the animals on a ship to Canada. But en route, the ship sank in a terrible storm. Pi found himself adrift at sea in a lifeboat with a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena, and a ferocious tiger named Richard Parker. But to survive, Pi has to rethink every conclusion he has made about life.
"Life of Pi" is rated PG for emotional thematic content throughout, and some scary action sequences and peril.
"Life of Pi" has a lot going for it. First of all, it is visually stunning. It features the sinking of a ship which is one of the most impressive visual effects sequences of 2012. You see a terrible storm battering the ship, the ship slowly sinking under the water, the chaos among the crew, and realistic looking CG animals frantically struggling for survival. You end up holding your breath for 5 minutes straight. But the effects don't stop there. Pi is then stranded in a lifeboat with four incredibly realistic looking CG animals – a tiger, a zebra, a hyena, and an orangutan. But you're so invested in Pi's plight and his character that you quickly forget that they're computer animated. The film then transitions into a dreamlike state where Pi sees a mixture of hallucinations and real life aquatic animals. A sequence where bioluminescent plankton and jellyfish illuminate the nighttime sea is breathtaking and worthy of "Avatar." I've seen bioluminescent plankton like that in real life and the sequence really captures the wonder of seeing it for the first time.
While the special effects are impressive, "Life of Pi" deserves recognition for something else – its boldness. It tells a story with an Indian lead and relatively unknown actors. It features non-linear storytelling. It features hallucinations amid flashbacks. "Life of Pi" is part "Slumdog Millionaire," part "Cast Away," part "We Bought a Zoo" and it blends them all pretty effectively. It features surreal imagery and symbolism. It's just incredibly ambitious and a tough story to tell. I give a lot of credit to Ang Lee for even attempting to film this novel. I'd like to see Hollywood try to break the mold like this more often.
I also am impressed that "Life of Pi" tackled something else that Hollywood frequently shies away from – religion. Young Pi examines Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, and Atheism equally and finds merits and drawbacks of each. I think it's something that everyone goes through at one point or another if they question the meaning of life. To see it played out through the eyes of a young Indian boy is an exciting thing to see on the big screen. While I wasn't necessarily satisfied with the conclusions that "Life of Pi" came to, I'm glad they at least brought up the question.
What Didn't Work:
I'm the kind of person that likes my films wrapped up and concluded in nice, neat packages. I don't like things left unresolved or open to interpretation. I want to know exactly what the writer intended to say. Unfortunately, that's not what "Life of Pi" is. The film starts out by saying Pi's story will prove the existence of God, but by the end you're left scratching your head at Pi's concluding line, "So it is with God." It is left open to such broad interpretation. I came away with several possible interpretations of what he meant, but none were satisfying. Then I looked online to see what other people concluded based on the book, and they all had different interpretations, too. I eventually came to the conclusion that the writers and filmmakers just threw so much symbolism and religious allegory into the mix with no clear idea of what they themselves were trying to say, then the audience is expected to walk away and say, "Wow, that was deep." It may work for you, but I didn't find it terribly satisfying. Maybe that was the point.
Along those same lines, literal-minded audiences will have trouble wrapping their minds around "Life of Pi" as well. The first two acts are quite strong and seemingly grounded in the real world. But by the third act, things start getting really, really trippy. The weirdness culminates when Pi and Richard Parker land on an island populated by meerkats. The scene will play well in states that have legalized pot, but most of the rest of us will be left trying to Google the meaning of it online after the credits roll.
"Life of Pi" is being heavily advertised on Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and The Disney Channel. It's also rated PG, so I assumed it was a family film and took my kids to see it. While I don't think there was any objectionable material in the film, I'd call this movie a PG-10. My 13-year-old kid and 10-year-old kid had no problem with it, but my 7-year-old son was cringing as the tiger repeatedly tried to attack Pi. There were also some rather brutal scenes involving the hyena, zebra, and orangutan. So if you have sensitive kids or any under 10, I would recommend using caution when watching "Life of Pi."
The Bottom Line:
Overall, "Life of Pi" is an ambitious film that is hit and miss. Fortunately there are more hits than misses, so it's worth checking out.