So many book adaptation these days! Ang Lee is fast becoming a master of lavish epic stories, stories with international spice. This new film bears all the hallmarks of a foreign film to be honest, I was surprised to discover it was American made, amazed in fact.
The story is told in part by narration from the main character, who is an adult. He is telling a writer about his fantastical story, about his early years in India and his families decision to immigrate to Canada. After a slow build up revolving around his family, his keen interest in various religions, the way he acquired his name and the family owned zoo, we start to get to the crux of the film.
Whilst on board the freighter bound for Canada, a storm hits and sinks the ship apparently killing everyone. 'Pi' survives on a lifeboat with a tiger, zebra, hyena and orangutan, this is where the real story begins.
Up to this point I'll be totally honest with you all and say the film isn't overly interesting. A slow character building plot showing you Indian family life and how religious minded the young 'Pi' is. Don't let that scare you though, the film is not in the least bit preachy about religion, its a very light view really, 'Pi's' parents are surprisingly easy on him whilst he switches from one to another trying to find his feet. You do kinda expect his father to go ape shit with him but that doesn't happen, that's not what this is about.
Of course the CGI in this film is pretty much the main focus, its not what the film is about but it takes centre stage. So how can I put this for you? the film looks like a crystal clear watercolour painting with 'Dali-esque' sequences of beauty that will inspire you, hows that?. Yes the CGI does look a tad obvious from time to time for sure (the animals in the lifeboat) but in general you don't care. Its like a living painting, constantly changing, expressing the sublime miracle that is nature, almost teaching you as it goes, a virtual wildlife show in poetic motion. Lets not forget about those sparkling sunsets, stormy skies, nautical dusk's and twilight's.
The sequence at night whilst 'Pi' drifts on the ocean surface surrounded by hundreds of bioluminescent jellyfish is damn near stunning, then a mighty Humpback whale (I think) bursts through the waters surface saturating the screen in a glowing shower of turquoise liquid!...pure fantasy but none the less spectacular. To be frank I found it disappointing that these sequences were CGI, I wanted them to be real. As for the main animal 'character', 'Richard Parker' the Bengal tiger, he's fudging faultless! in fact I'm not even sure if they used a real tiger anywhere, did they??! I really couldn't tell.
The story isn't all about fancy effects though as I said, there is a lot more to it than that. The young boy surviving on his own aboard this lifeboat, there is a huge amount of faith naturally, hope, courage, fear, acceptance and understanding. He must learn to deal with his fate, not to blame God for his situation but let God enter his heart and give him the strength to survive. He can't rely on God or a God to bail him out, he can't worry about which religion is right, he must be true to himself.
He must also be cautious and firm with his big cat companion, learn to coexist together for the greater good, they need each other after all.
In the end various elements from the various religions help young 'Pi' on his perilous journey. The story does a great job of simply showing how similar these religions are, how one is not greater than the other, nor is one anymore correct than the other, there is no definitive way. Sounds heavy but it really isn't, the whole plot plays out like a child's bedtime fairytale, a fairytale with a good message.
This visual treat has so many layers its incredible, an Asian/Indian subcontinental core with a dash of Chiwan flavouring from its director. You can clearly see how the animals/mammals in the film are represented and beautifully expressed which is so important to both cultures, the tiger especially. Its so strange that this deep little tale comes from a French speaking Canadian!, it just seems so very close to the stories roots of India, or the far East/Indochina maybe.
Sure the ending is a bit depressing, we find out what really happened, the reality, but like the characters in the story you too can choose which tale you preferred. There is actually no right answer, the question is, does the tale make YOU believe in God?.