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The Cinematic Katzenjammer: Nov 25: Life of Pi


Nov 25: Life of Pi

"A young man who survives a disaster at sea is hurtled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery. While cast away, he forms an unexpected connection with another survivor ... a fearsome Bengal tiger."
Directed by: Ang Lee, Rated: PG, 127 minutes

Ang Lee has proven time after time that he's a master storyteller. Luckily for us, he is also just as incredible with a camera, and manages to bring each of his stories to life in the most beautiful ways possible. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is the film that put him on the map and a fine example of his ability to blend the dramatic and beautiful. At first, you'd think it's just a run-of-the-mill kung fu movie with swords and what not, but its story is genuine, heart-breaking, and much more complex than what you'd expect. Then Lee decided to tackle a superhero with Hulk, a movie that was confused with itself and didn't know where to go. Even then, Lee managed to tell a very dramatic story (too dramatic for a superhero) and the look of the film was still superior to most. Then came his masterpiece in Brokeback Mountain, a movie that focused solely on the relationship between two lovers with a gorgeous backdrop of the American ranch lands. What easily could have been a disaster (and parodied to death), Lee turned into something more beautiful than you could ever imagine. With this year's Life of Pi, Lee has elevated his talent to new levels, employing the use of 3D and a lot of special effects to get the job done. However, just like all of his other works, the beautiful imagery plays second fiddle to the story at the heart of the film.

Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma) is a young man from Pondicherry, India who is book smart (school is boring to him) and curious about every kind of religion. He tastes each faith, looking for his favorite flavor and becomes a very well-rounded individual over time. He's not above you or me, but he's very in touch with God(s) and never loses his faith. When his family decides to move to Canada, they board a freighter carrying all of the animals from the zoo they owned, including a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker (his name was a clerical error). On its way across the Pacific, the freighter capsizes and poor Pi is left alone in a lifeboat with Richard Parker and must figure out a way to keep the beast at bay and find rescue. What unfolds is an incredible story of survival, religion, love, and the beauty and dangers of nature as well as all of creation. It's much more complex than your ordinary survival tale, but is also quite simple in the ideas behind it.

First-time actor, Suraj Sharma gives one of the better debut performances I have ever seen. He's a young man that's tested over and over again, by his family, by nature, and even the God(s) he so adores. Yet, he never gives up faith and realizes that everything happens for a reason and that he needs to accept it no matter what. Life of Pi manages to be a story about faith without ever feeling like it's forcing its ideas or beliefs in any direction. It's a simple story about a man never giving up, and the source of his hope just happens to be rooted in Catholicism, Hinduism, Islam, and even a bit of Judaism. You don't need to understand any of the faiths to understand it's the driving force behind every aspect of Pi's life. Sharma manages to convey a real balance between conviction and naivety and in his actions he's never arrogant or self-righteous. He's just like anyone would be in his situation- scared, alone, and even more frustrated with his situation but manages to pull himself together to get things done, be smart about it, and survive. With Sharma on the screen for the majority of the film, he needs to be something special, and it goes without saying that he deserves a nomination for Best Actor.

Pi is a boy transformed by a tragedy and Sharma is compelling in the transition from boy to man. 

The story of Life of Pi jumps between present time (where Pi is played by Irrfan Khan), Pi's childhood, and the time he spent on the lifeboat. Even though we know that Pi survives and that his older self is the one telling the audience the story, we still fear for the boy. Danger is constantly biting at his heels, either from the harsh weather of open waters or from his partner in surviving, Richard Parker. Many bits of discussion leading up to this film was the fact that the largest part of the story, a tiger and a boy co-existing on a lifeboat, would be damn near impossible to film, at least convincingly. However, Ang Lee utilizes breath-taking special effects and visuals to not only create a real, breathing Bengal tiger, but craft beautiful paintings around the two characters for the entire film. Richard Parker never feels like an animated animal that is added to the screen to fit the story, but he becomes a real character with his own personality and even his own fears. He's the supporting cast to Sharma's titular character. Along with the tiger, the rest of the film is packed full of imagery and visuals you could only dream of. As I stated, the entire movie feels like a series of paintings and, as the audience, we're walking through the gallery as an even more beautiful story is told. Our souls, our minds, and our eyes are all gifted with amazing pictures and words and the entire film will leave you in awe. Unlike films like Avatar or Transformers, where the visuals tell the story, Life of Pi utilizes the special effects to only give a grander scale to what's unfolding on screen. Even without the imagery Life of Pi would be successful, so all the beauty we see only accentuates the story, never taking away from it.

Seriously, the entire movie looks like this and it's breath-taking. 

On a technical aspect, Life of Pi is extraordinary. It's a beauty to behold and humbles you in a way you wouldn't think a film would be able to do. It reminds you of how gorgeous nature can be and shows you that you can do a lot more with a camera than you could ever imagine. It takes you on a journey to a world you could only think of in your dreams and imagination, and then makes you realize it's that of the world we actually live in. Life of Pi is incredibly well acted and is as packed with as much emotion as possible in its 127 minute run-time. Luckily, the film never feels preachy and the delicate subject matter it treads upon is never ruined or disrespected. It raises a lot of questions about what you would not only do in a similar situation, but about how you live your life, your test of faith, and makes you value the things and people around you like never before. While it's not a life-changing experience, it's something that comes very close and shows us that there are unending stories to be told on an even more unending scale. Ang Lee presents us with a beautiful story with amazing special effects. The filmmaker takes us on a ride across oceans and existences and leaves us with the facts to decide on what to believe. 

The Good:
heart-wrenching emotion strewn with bits of humor that makes the film all the more human and relatable
The Better:
terrific visuals that make the film one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen and completely redefine any expectations I have for 3D
The Best:
incredible performances from an entire cast of mostly unknowns, with an exceptional debut performance from Suraj Sharma and a terrific outing from the always amazing Irrfan Khan
The Oscar Chances:
Nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Sharma), Best Supporting Actor (Khan), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Visual Effects, and Best Cinematography

Overall: 9.4/10

Discussion Question:
Would you have the willpower and/or the faith to survive for so long?


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At November 26, 2012 at 5:44 AM , Blogger Shane said...

Yeah, I can't wait to see this one. Pretty much summed up what I expected. Great review.

At November 26, 2012 at 6:24 AM , Blogger Two Tickets For... said...

We actually just saw this yesterday and our review will either be posted today or tomorrow, but surprisingly, we weren't as in love with it as you are, Nick.

It's a technical marvel and masterpiece, there's no doubt about that. The 3D/visuals are mind-blowing, and Sharma does a fantastic job holding most of the movie without another live actor across from him, but there was just something about the entirety of the film that left us hollow and.....quite frankly.....bored.

At November 26, 2012 at 8:40 AM , Blogger Nick said...

Thanks. Definitely go see it while you can. And in 3D!

At November 26, 2012 at 8:41 AM , Blogger Nick said...

Bored? Boo! lol. I can understand how the movie really isn't for everyone (I know some people in my theater were rather anxious an hour or so into it).

At November 26, 2012 at 12:04 PM , Blogger Ries said...

Interesting article, Nick. I'll be sure to see this one - I've got mixed feelings about the book, but the trailer and your review have intrigued me.

At November 26, 2012 at 8:17 PM , Blogger Nick said...

You need to see it! In 3D!!!


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