28 October 2013

Life of Pi (starring Suraj Sharma)

The book ‘The Life of Pi’ was a literary hit in 2001. Billed as a kind of philosophical fantasy adventure, featuring a boy on a lifeboat with a tiger, it really didn’t appeal to me. So I never got around to reading it, and the fact that a film of the book was made last year passed me by completely. Apparently it won several Oscars.

Visiting relatives recently, we watched the film, which they had been given. I wasn’t expecting much, but found it quite mesmerising in places. I particularly enjoyed the opening section, where the adult Pi explains to a visiting journalist how he got his nickname; there are flashbacks to his schooldays, and we get a good glimpse of his background as the son of a zoo-keeper.

Then the family - and animals - board a large ship bound for Canada. A terrible storm erupts, and there’s high action (much of which I didn’t really follow) ending with Pi as the only human on a lifeboat, with several animals. One of them is a Bengal tiger whose name (due to a clerical error) is Richard Parker.

Then follows several days at sea, with inevitable unpleasantness and an attempt by Pi to befriend the tiger. I didn’t much enjoy this part, and, indeed, I found the ending puzzling rather than satisfying. However, it was excellently produced and I’m not surprised that the director and others won Oscars for it. I was slightly surprised that Suraj Sharma, who played Pi in the high action part of the film, did not also win one.

However, the deeper message of the film, which other people have observed and discussed, went rather over my head. The adult Pi mentions that he had an experience that made him certain God exists, but although as a child he tried to follow three religions at once, there’s very little mention of God or anything spiritual. At the end we’re left suddenly in doubt as to whether his story was (from a fictional point of view) true or metaphorical, which I found confusing.

We watched the ‘making of Life of Pi’ extra on the DVD, and that was well worth seeing - I was astounded at the lengths to which the crew and cast went to produce this film, and very impressed to learn that the animals were all produced by computer graphics; while I assumed that some scenes must have been done that way, the results were highly realistic. Both visual effects and cinematography were awarded Oscars, which I felt were well-deserved.

I’m glad I watched this film, which was very different from anything I had previously seen, right outside my usual comfort zone. It’s even inspired me to get hold of the book, to see if I understand the philosophy better when I read it. It’s not something I want to see again, so I was quite surprised when my husband decided to buy a copy, and declared it one of the best movies he had seen in a long time.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews