Life of Pi Review: Big Ideas and Gorgeous Filmmaking Suffer From One Major Flaw

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Ang Lee has created the most beautiful film of the year, but that beauty comes to an ugly end when the last few seconds nearly destroy everything Lee worked towards.

Life of Pi‘s first act is an intriguing setup that will conjure up memories of how you discovered your own faith, even if your’s does not include religion and gods. By evoking those memories within the audience, watching Pi (Irrfan Khan as the older version and Suraj Sharma as the younger) discover his own faith brings on a spiritual nostalgia.

It is a warm start to this epic tale, aside from a traumatic experience Pi has when his father (Adil Hussain), who owns a zoo in India, forces him to watch a tiger eat a goat to show him that the animal has no soul.

But that tiger has a name, Richard Parker, and the majority of the film lets Pi try to rediscover what he thought he saw in this beast years ago. This is emulated after Pi’s family must sell all the animals and move to Canada. A nasty storm sinks the ship, leaving Pi with Richard Parker to survive in the middle of the ocean. Alone.

The boy and the tiger’s relationship is what drives Life of Pi to be Lee’s best film this side of Brokeback Mountain. Watching them test the water with each other and drift closer in this desperate situation is emotionally powerful. Picture Cast Away but instead of Wilson you have a moody Bengal tiger. Together they take this journey. Together they will survive.

It’s powerful stuff made more effective by the life like CGI used to create Richard Parker and many other critters. Melded together with the best 3D since Avatar and you have one visually stunning movie.

The camera never shies away from showing you the scope and beauty of this world, as well as some fantastical dream-like scenery, while still retaining the emotion of the characters.

Too bad the film’s resolution leaves much to be desired. The third act introduces some really interesting ideas of about the nature of storytelling itself. It has some worthy connections to finding your faith, but then the last thing we see stomps on everything this film worked for with a big paw of animality. I won’t spoil it for you, but much of Pi’s journey feels worthless after that moment, and where he ends up lacks the final connection to make him feel worthy of the reward.

Aside from that, Life of Pi is simply one of the most beautifully photographed films of all time. It tells a grand story with universal religious overtones that won’t alienate any group. With that, Lee has truly accomplished something. Many called Yann Martel’s novel unfilmable, and Lee proves them wrong. But the last few seconds cannot be ignored and left me feeling still lost at sea. Grade: B+



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