Film Review: Life of Pi

By Sophie Vollbrecht

Psychology. How does our human psychology work and why do we behave the way we do in the most critical moments? And what happens if quite randomly a tiger is involved?

‘Life of Pi’ is a story which combines the destiny of two different individuals and shows how they interact with one another on the most nerve-racking journey of their lives.

The story is based on a fictional novel by the Canadian author Yann Martel, released in 2001. It was Martel’s most successful novel to date and several directors were interested in adapting the story for a movie. In 2012 Ang Lee, a Taiwanese film director known for films like ‘The Wedding Banquet’ or ‘Eat Drink Man Woman’, finally adapted the novel into a film.

In German cinemas the film was released on 26. December 2012. 1,377,920 German film-goers saw it, making it the 20th most viewed film in 2013.

“The world isn’t just the way it is. It is how we understand it, no? And in understanding something, we bring something to it, no? Doesn’t that make life a story?”

The extraordinary film plot starts with an ordinary introduction: the author himself, Yann Martel, meets Piscine Molitor Patel, nickname Pi, in Canada. He has been told that the story of Pi is a fascinating one and good to write about.  So Pi starts to tell him about his life as a young boy in India. He was a lucky boy, raised in a caring family. Pi’s family owned a zoo and he started to develop a big interest in the animals, and especially in the tiger named Richard Parker.

Religion and the love of God were also important topics for him at that time. So he started to follow three religions: Hinduism, the religion of his family, Christianity and Islam. He was searching for something he could not put into words: the meaning of life. Until he met Anandi, the first woman he fell in love with, he thought that he could never find an answer to his questions. Just when Anandi and Pi had fallen in love Pi’s father announced that he was about to move the family to Canada, because he wanted to sell the animals there. With the whole family and the animals packed into a Japanese freighter, the journey started.

During a storm the ocean engulfed the whole ship, including Pi’s family and most of the animals. Just managing to save himself in a life raft, Pi watched stunned, desperate and full of fear as the ship sank, realising his family would not survive. Minutes before, Pi thought he had seen a survivor and tried to rescue him, but in the end it turned out to be Richard Parker, the tiger. So he and Richard drifted disorientated in a small boat through the infinite vastness of the ocean.

As the plot unfolds the viewer can observe how Pi and Richard engage with one another, how they fail and manage to share their small living space, a life raft. Both in survival mode, they develop different behavioural patterns. Pi uses several different methods to train Richard to accept him on the boat and comes to the realisation that caring about Richard keeps him alive.

Both are realise that they don’t have any chance of survival without one another. So they unconsciously develop a deep bond that connects them.

It’s so pure and credibly performed that the viewer can feel the pain Pi senses when Richard entered the jungle without saying goodbye one last time at the end of their journey. He realises that Richard Parker is, after all, still a tiger who doesn’t feel emotion in the same way he does.

“I’ve never forgotten him. Dare I say I miss him? I do. I miss him. I still see him in my dreams. They are nightmares mostly, but nightmares tinged with love. Such is the strangeness of the human heart. I still cannot understand how he could abandon me so unceremoniously, without any sort of goodbye, without looking back even once. The pain is like an axe that chops my heart. ”

The movie has won several prizes. One of them was received by the director Ang Lee. He won the Oscar in the category ‘Best Achievement in Directing’. Known for his emotional charge he created a very special experience for the viewer in ‘Life of Pi’. Authentic scenes show how Pi and Richard develop a deep spiritual connection. Breath taking camera shots reveal beautiful pictures of our planet and the wide ocean at night, and on the other hand also show how cruel windstorms can be, not least through the atmosphere he achieved by the voiceover. Throughout the film you can hear the voice of the adult Piscine telling his story. The viewer kind of adopts the role of Yann Martel who wants to hear what Pi has to say. The combination of hearing and seeing what happens makes the film reality.

Suraj Sharma, the actor of the young Pi, also gives the film its spiritedness. Suraj apparently went to the audition as a favour for his actor brother. He had no experience of or interest in acting. But luckily he got the role, because he fantastically performs Pi’s struggles with questions of faith, hope and giving up, how to tame Richard and keep himself sane.

To sum up, the movie combines heart, a bit of humour and intelligence. This makes watching it a great experience. Ang Lee, who was the first to adapt such a fascinating story into a film, seems to be an excellent choice as director. He created the impossible. At least as important to mention is the extraordinary cast and the thrilling shots, which make the film even more recommendable. Ultimately, the audience figures speak volumes. This film is definitely worth a watch.

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