Friday, January 31, 2014

Life of Pi

From its earliest images, Life of Pi (2012; dir. Ang Lee) has a fabulistic tone—with the opening shots of zoo animals, of the same animals on the ship the family is taking to America, and finally with the animals that seek refuge (however briefly or unfortunately for most of them) in the lifeboat that the main character Pi (Piscine Molitor, played by Suraj Sharma) finds his way into after the ship wreck.  The entire film is presented as a tale told by Pi to a novelist (Yann Martel, who wrote the novel, played by Rafe Spall) in search of a story, which in essence suggests that the film is a tale told to the audience by the novelist.  In and of itself, Pi’s initial narrative seems incomplete, not in the sense of its narrative, which does have a beginning and middle and end, but with the quality of its completeness—it’s too simple, too straightforward, too perfect, too lyrical and fanciful, too obviously crafted.  There’s no raggedness.  We’re not too surprised when insurance investigators wonder whether the tale Pi told them about his ordeal camouflaged a darker story, which leads Pi to tell about a different series of events that his first narrative “might” have disguised.  The real story (if it is the real one) seems more likely but less entertaining than the fabulistic one.  Of course, we never know which story is true, if either is.  But this film feeds our desire for adventure and fantasy, for a tale of a man striving against the unforgiving onslaughts of nature, and who struggles to reach an accord with the tiger that shares the boat with him—an accord that is tenuous at best and that ends as soon as they reach landfall in Mexico.  It also satisfies our need for Pi’s happy survival of a nearly impossible 227-day ordeal.  Most of all the film feeds our desire for story, and however many faults one may find in either of Pi’s tales, both of which are probably emblematic of some other untold truer narrative, this film is beautifully constructed, with artfully integrated special effects that don’t intrude—they’re part of the fantasy, but they represent the real well enough.  One doesn’t need to have read the book by Martel to understand or enjoy the film.

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