“Life of Pi” is a spiritual whirlwind. A visually stunning masterpiece of filmmaking. It’s a film with a story that promises to make you believe in God, and if you let it, it might do just that.
Based on a novel by Yann Martel, “Life of Pi” is the kind of story that every author dreams of writing. It connects on a personal and realistic level, yet maintains an essence of magic.
The film opens in a zoo in India. Our main character, Pi, grew up there. Pi is a boy who determines his own destiny. When classmates make fun of his name, he changes it. When he discovers a religion he likes, he follows it. Pi is a Hindu, a Christian and a Muslim.
“You cannot follow three different religions at the same time,” Pi’s father tells him.
“Why not?” Pi asks. The film continues to ask this question.
When the zoo goes broke, the family packs everything they own, zoo animals included, into a ship and head for a new life. They never make it. The ship goes down and Pi is left in a lifeboat with only the company of an adult Bengal tiger.
The stage is set, and suddenly the film is one of survival. Of faith tested. Pi spends 227 days at sea with the tiger, which is named Richard Parker because of a clerical error.
Despite the nature of the creature, Richard Parker is all Pi has. He does his best to train the animal. He feels that they are together in their fight to survive. Perhaps their bond is real. Perhaps Pi imagines it. But it feels legitimate to the viewer, and it’s absorbing to watch.
Pi’s days at sea provide some of the most gorgeous shots seen in filmmaking. In one view of the water, the reflection is so clear that you can’t tell where the sky begins and the ocean ends. It’s transcendental.
Ang Lee does what he does best as a director. He makes the mundane appear beautiful and complex. Every shot – be it the open doorway of a church, a glittering whale soaring out of the ocean or the face of an impressive computer-generated tiger – is gorgeous.
Suraj Sharma is so comfortable in the role of Pi that it’s hard to believe it’s his debut as an actor. When Pi cries, the viewer is inclined to cry with him. When he shouts for joy, we want to stand and cheer. We feel what Pi feels, and if you ask me, that’s the most anyone can ask from an actor.
To tell you how this film ends would be an insult to this brilliant piece of storytelling. Instead, I’ll tell you that the ending is chilling. It rendered me breathless for a moment. After watching, there is a good chance you’ll immediately want to watch again, with the newly gained perspective. It changes everything.
The film is deeply spiritual; though, note that I am not religious. It’s symbolic. A slow burn. 227 days at sea. But if you invest and watch patiently, the wait is well worth it. The final act, the way that Pi’s story makes people believe in God, is fascinating and compelling.
Is the film successful? Can it make you believe in God? I believe Pi said it best.
“As for God, I can only tell you my story. You’ll decide for yourself what you believe.”
What a story he tells.