(PG) Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Ayush Tandon, Gautam Belur

Not having read Yann Martel’s book before seeing this film it is hard to comment about how director Ang Lee has adapted the work for the screen.

It is easy, however, to spot where the adaptation process may have started as the film is carefully framed with a conversation that occurs between the older Piscine “Pi” Patel (Irrfan Khan) and a young writer (Rafe Spall), who has come to him to hear his remarkable story.

This framing device acts as a form of narration to the story of Pi and his exploits adrift on a lifeboat with aBengaltiger.

Of course this reviewer’s interest was piqued from the very first frames when the aforementioned author introduces himself to Pi and then states, “I have come to hear your story and I have been told it will make me believe in God.”

Patel begins telling the writer of growing up inPondicherry,India, in the 1970s with a father who was a zookeeper. The young Pi was raised Hindu, but eventually discovers Christianity (and later Islam and a little Kabbalah) and becomes one of those kids who asks a million questions.

His hobby seems to be collecting belief systems. The Hindu gods to him are like superheroes, he explains, and on a trip toFrancehe is introduced to Christ and tries to fathom why God would treat His Son the way he did.

Far from being blasphemous, these discussions about faith, belief and doubt give Pi his inquisitive nature and love of religion.

Everything changes, however, when the family chooses to emigrate toCanada. Pi’s life is packed up — along with his family’s zoo animals — on a cargo ship and put out to sea, where a terrible storm leaves Pi adrift on a lifeboat with a hyena, a zebra, an orang-outang and aBengaltiger named Richard Parker.

“Pi’s Ark” eventually succumbs to the inevitable survival-of-the-fittest drama (some of the more intense scenes in the film) and the 17-year-old is left on the boat alone with the giant feline. This is where Pi’s story really begins.

As Pi recounts his months at sea, the tales of his tentative relationship with the tiger — and of a carnivorous island populated with meerkats — it seems more likely that his tales are those of a starving boy living on the edge of death than of a young man who survived his ordeal.

He speaks of offering himself up to death — and ultimately God — only to awaken alive.

One particularly monstrous storm becomes a spiritual experience for Pi, leading him to question God’s plan for him. “I’ve lost everything! I surrender! What more do you want?” Pi rails at the sky.

But, through it all, he never loses hope.

Pi finds joy from something as simple as an old survival manual, as well as from the solace of the ocean’s beauty: the bioluminescent, rainbow hues of magnificent schools of flying fish; the shimmering blues of the ocean’s swells; and a radiant humpback whale that streaks to the surface of the ocean.

Even when he’s finally rescued and insurance adjusters come to get the truth about the voyage, the tale seems too tall to be true. He eventually tells them another story that’s more believable but far more dark and gruesome. They leave and, like the viewer, believe what they want to hear.

When Pi finishes telling his story to the young writer even he doesn’t quite believe what he has heard. Was Pi’s shipwreck a miraculous journey or a traumatic brutal event which has clouded his memory?

Pi simply states believe what you will “and so it is with God”.

What we know is that Pi’s is a miraculous journey whichever way you want to spin it and this is surely the point of the film and indeed belief in God as well.

This is one of the most beautiful films you will see this year and the beauty is owed as much to special effects as cinematography.

Case in point: Richard Parker theBengaltiger is a work of genius; a work of pixel art, pure and simple. It is so flawlessly achieved that, as you watch, the big cat ceases to become pixels and seems real.

There is unsurpassed beauty in the frames of this film. At times the ocean fills the screen and reflects the sky; Pi is becalmed on a mirrored surface reflecting the sunset; elsewhere bioluminescent fish create a cosmos underwater. All this beauty is only enhanced by the use of 3D — one scene shot exclusively for IMAX is quite simply breathtaking.

The film poses many questions about belief, doubt and rational thought. About how Pi’s adventure could prove the existence of God through God’s amazing creation and provision in keeping Pi and Richard Walker alive.

As Ang Lee has said of the film, “Life of Pi, on a huge scale, is a fable of faith.

“In many ways, it is about the value of storytelling and the value of sharing stories.”

Adrian Drayton

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