In a circle of infinity
Confession time. I never read Yan Martel’s Man Booker Award winning novel Life of Pi. I know, I know! I co-write for a website that claims to be all literary and likes to tout the fact that it tracks dozens of award cycles every year, yet somehow I conveniently managed to ignore such a high profile winner? How am I going to explain my way out of this one?
The truth is that I thought about reading it. A lot. And people recommended it to me to read. A lot. I almost picked up the audiobook in an airport on my way to Atlanta for work. I almost borrowed the hard cover from my library to read on the train on my way to work. I just never did. When I saw the first trailer for Ang Lee’s movie adaptation last year I made a personal vow that I would read the book before seeing the movie. No dice. Life (mine, not Pi’s) just kept getting in the way.
I mention all of this because I want to be clear that the only thing I have in which to base my opinion of the movie on is the movie itself. I had no expectations around what the film could or could not deliver because I never read the book. I wasn’t disappointed in any changes that were made because I wasn’t aware that there were any, and I didn’t bother to look up what the differences were between the film and the book either before, or after viewing it. All I did know was that many had labeled the book unfilmable.
Make no mistake about it; this tale of a young adult set adrift in a life raft with a tiger in the Pacific Ocean for hundreds of days relies heavily on special effects. So much so that some have joking referred to it as “Life of CGI.” It’s a fair moniker: 86% of the scenes involving the tiger are in fact CGI.
However, Ang Lee’s film is the exception to what feels like Hollywood rule these days. He utilizes state of the art technology to bring to life a cast of characters and set of environments that actually serve to enhance the story that being told. He’s not trying to cover up for any deficiencies in acting or storytelling. He doesn’t have to because they don’t exist. The magic here isn’t the technology, but rather the story that the technology is being used to tell. Sadly, so many of today’s films rely on eye candy to distract the viewer’s attention from the fact that there is no cohesive narrative to be found behind the action that’s being presented. Life of Pi avoids these trappings primarily because it’s a story about the art of storytelling.
The only minor problem with Lee’s film is that it feels a bit rushed in the final act. The viewer is presented with a spiritual problem to chew on that involves two disparate series of events, but they’re all but forced to make a split second judgment to believe one set of circumstances as being true over another equally compelling set that could just as easily be factual. Does the original novel spend an equal amount of time exploring both threads as possible truths? I have no idea. What I do know is that the film most certainly slants its presentation in favor of one over the other. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s not quite how belief is supposed to work. Influence plays a role certainly, but it should be more subtle in nature then what’s at work here.
Despite this one minor annoyance, it’s clear that Life of Pi deserves a place at the Best Picture table. It’s perfect blend of storytelling and stunning visuals combine to present a spiritual puzzle that has no definitive answer. In the end it seems as though the film’s message is that it’s not a question of what you choose to believe, so much as you actually do choose to believe in something. Even the choosing not to believe is still a conscious choice. That’s a positive message that I can get behind.
Life of Pi
Directed by Ang Lee
Best Picture (Gil Netter, Ang Lee and David Womark, Producers)
Cinematography (Claudio Miranda)
Directing (Ang Lee)
Film Editing (Tim Squyres)
Music-Original Score (Mychael Danna)
Music-Original Song (“Pi’s Lullaby” Music by Mychael Danna; Lyric by Bombay Jayashri)
Production Design (David Gropman (Production Design); Anna Pinnock (Set Decoration))
Sound Editing (Eugene Gearty and Philip Stockton)
Sound Mixing (Ron Bartlett, D.M. Hemphill and Drew Kunin)
Visual Effects (Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott)
Writing-Adapted Screenplay (Written by David Magee)
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