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Life of Pi Movie Review – Simple, Elegant and Deeply Philosophical

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Piscine Molitor Patel is a young Indian boy born and brought up in Pondicherry, India by parents who run a zoo in the former French colony that gained its independence in 1954. He is named after the now defunct but previously magnificent swimming pool in Paris, France by his uncle who was a naturally gifted swimmer as well as Piscine’s swimming coach.

As Piscine (pronounced as ‘Pissing’) starts approaching his pre-teens he is mocked by his classmates at school who refer to him as “Pissing Patel“. Tired by being bullied and taunted by the mis-pronunciation of his first name, he transforms himself into ‘Pi Patel‘ leveraging the mathematical brilliance of the first two characters of his first name. From here starts the story of the “Life of the Pi” which is essentially a story within a story told entirely in the form of a narrative by Pi himself to a writer interested in translating Pi’s experience into a book. Prior to hitting its key theme the movie based on a book by the same name (‘Life of Pi‘ by Yann Martel) explores how Pi becomes fascinated by religion embracing Hinduism, Christianity and Islam at the same time only to be told by his father that doing so is no different than being an Atheist.

The core plot of the movie is essentially then a tug of war between Pi and Richard Parker. The spin here is that Richard Parker is not a man, but a ferocious Bengal tiger originally captive in Pi’s father’s zoo in Pondicherry. Pi’s father decides to relocate the zoo to Canada, and packs all the animals, along with his family, into a ship, Noah’s ark-style. The ship sinks. Pi finds himself alone in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi, whose fear, knowledge, and cunning allow him to coexist with Richard Parker for 227 days lost at sea before he hits the coast of Mexico while on the verge of death. The bulk of the movie describes the mental battle that ensues between boy and beast as they try to co-exist and not give up the will to survive.

Not to give too much away through this Life Of Pi movie review, but if you happen to watch the movie on a weekend in the afternoon or evening, you will be surprised to find the chatter and delight of kids in the movie theater. While the movie is not really designed to be a kids film, the clever use of 3D along with the presence of exotic wildlife make the film enjoyable for young kids as well. The movie is thus simple enough to be enjoyed by kids, elegant in its design, visually brilliant thanks to the depth of the third dimension and deeply philosophical when analyzed by the curious mind, as indicated by the title of this Life of Pi movie review. Those who haven’t read the book but watched the movie closely would find themselves at some discomfort while walking out of the movie theater as it probes the surface of some of the key themes explored at greater length in the book. One can therefore expect a sudden surge in book sales much to the delight of Yann Martel and his publishing house.

The book touches topics such as belief in god, primacy of survival, the art of storytelling, science and religion and the relativity of truth. All of these are also explored in the movie which is why Ang Lee, the movie’s director got a big thumbs up to his labor of love by the book’s author.

This Life of Pi movie review would not be complete without applauding the work of Suraj Sharma (who plays the main lead of the shipwrecked 16 year old Pi) and the ferocious Richard Parker. Suraj who is actually just 17 years of age happens to be the son of two mathematicians, a coincidence that greatly amused Mr. Lee. “What are the chances,” he said, “that two mathematicians give birth to a kid who plays the lead in a film called ‘Life of Pi’?”. The first-time actor from Delhi performs way beyond the range of most amateur actors and is bound to be sought after for many more roles from Hollywood and Bollywood. Finally its the Bengal Tiger Richard Parker who is a treat to watch. A little known fact is that the Mr. Parker was is actually three real tigers (two female and one male), plus some CGI creations and great finesse from the Tiger’s trainer, an experience that vastly increased Ang Lee’s knowledge about the species of Tigers.

This Life of Pi Movie review rates the film at 3.5 stars (although we would like to rate it at 3.14, the value of Pi) as it is truly a very hard job to do complete justice to a Booker Prize winning novel in 120 minutes of screen time. Nevertheless, the movie is definitely worth a one-time watch for anyone who likes meaningful cinema and worth watching twice for those who love delving beyond the surface.