Eye of the tiger

Eye of the tiger

Ang Lee takes audiences on a fantastic voyage

By Tim Pompey 11/29/2012


Life of Pi
Directed by Ang Lee
Starring: Vibish Sivakumar,
Irrfan Khan, Rafe Spall
Rated PG for emotional thematic content throughout, and some scary action sequences and peril
2 hrs. 7 mins.

Get ready for a wild ride in a small boat with a boy and a tiger lost in the middle of the ocean. If this sounds surrealistic, it is, and yet it remains closely connected to the real world. In fact, this is a film where magic and reality intermingle in such profound ways, you can’t tell the difference.

Pi’s director, Ang Lee, is one of those film gurus who knows no boundaries. His movies range from comic book action pics (The Hulk) to martial arts gymnastics (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and the Oscar-winning Brokeback Mountain.

In this case, however, he has built something much larger and more thoughtful than any of his previous films. It’s a global story about life, death, enemies and the search for God. It’s a film that contrasts the confines of a small dinghy with the enormous landscape of an ocean, a film that crosses continents to explore the roots of faith and religion. For Lee, it’s his cinematic magnum opus.

It begins in Toronto, Canada, where a writer (Rafe Spall) hears a strange story about Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan) and wants to interview him. When they meet at Pi’s house, Pi begins to recount how, as a teenager, he survived being marooned in a small boat in the Pacific Ocean for nearly eight months.

The story starts quietly, almost blandly, as Pi tells the writer about his boyhood in India. His father owned a zoo. His mother was a botanist. Except for his odd conversions to Islam, Catholicism and Hinduism, his upbringing was fairly normal. That is, until political upheaval in India pushed his father to move the family to Canada.

After the family and all their zoo animals boarded a Japanese freighter for the long voyage, the boat sank in a monster storm. Everyone on board died except for the teenage Pi (Vibish Sivakumar) and three of the animals: a zebra, a hyena and, much to the young Pi’s dismay, a full-grown tiger named Richard Parker.

This is the essence of the story. On a large ocean in a small boat, a boy and a tiger who are mortal enemies must learn to coexist. While the story may have meanings on so many different levels, most assuredly it is about man and nature — different species, different perspectives — forced to share life together. Living itself comes down to sharing and respecting space.

While this is a story of survival, it’s the vision of director Lee that makes the screen shimmer with light, water and life teeming beneath the ocean. From the blue sky to the enormous ocean storms, from the phosphorescent shimmer of jellyfish to the snarling jaws and sharp claws of the tiger, Lee has created a canvas so vivid it will take your breath away.

You might assume that, at least in part, this is a nature story, and that would be true; but in this case, Lee has shown nature’s true colors. Nature is untamed, frightening and often difficult to endure. The ocean shows no mercy. The tiger is never tamed.

But this is also a movie about the relationship between nature, humans and God. Pi, a young man with an insatiable spiritual curiosity, must become brutal to assure his own survival. Yet, as his situation becomes extremely dire, he cannot escape the question that taunts him:  Where is his merciful God and why is this happening to him?

With a wonderful cast, great visuals and a thought-provoking soundtrack, Life of Pi is epic in every sense and then some — particularly if you’re willing to watch it in 3D. For those who enjoy the full gamut of international movie magic, Lee has provided for your viewing pleasure a full palette.

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