In real life, that cartoon strip would’ve been a lot shorter.
Calvin: Hey Hobbes, what’s the meaning of life?
Hobbes: *Eats Calvin*
Okay, so once again I have to preface this review by clarifying that I haven’t read the book. After Cloud Atlas and Perks of Being a Wallflower, I’m looking forward to finally being able to say “Yes, I have read the book” when I review The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey next week. In any case, I’ve been looking forward to this movie for a while but I can’t say I was exactly psyched to see it. Not having read the book and not being the hugest Ang Lee fan, it seemed like the main draw the film held for me was its inspiring story of survival along with some of the most beautiful CGI of the year. That plus it’s status as a nationwide release got me into my seat, albeit at the regular, non-3D price (Seriously, to hell with 3D). I left the theater feeling like I would have been much happier if I had just left before the very last line of the movie (I will avoid elaborating for fear of spoilers). Ultimately, the religious messages of the film fell a bit flat for me and the ending could have been handled better, but the majority of the film does succeed in being as emotionally powerful as it is beautiful to behold.
The greater part of the film is told through flashbacks, as an adult Pi (Irrfan Khan) relates the story of his life to a struggling author (Rafe Spall). That story begins with a brief account of Pi’s young life in Pondicherry, India, where his family owned a botanical garden-turned-Zoo. Financial difficulties force Pi’s father (Adil Hussain) to move his family to Canada and sell the residents of their Zoo, to young Pi’s dismay. While traveling across the pacific, however, their cargo ship is taken down by a powerful storm, leaving Pi (Suraj Sharma) adrift on a life raft with a fully grown Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker. As food and water start to run out, Pi is forced to do all he can to coexist with Richard Parker as they try to survive until the current brings them to some distant shore.
I’ll be honest, I was a little bored with the first half hour or so of the film. Most of the scenes between Adult Pi and the author just establish a framework for Pi to tell his story to the audience, i.e. including Ellen Page in Inception to give someone for Joseph Gordon Levitt to explain the workings of the movie to. These scenes are fairly heavy during the beginning half of the film but nearly drop out once Pi is shipwrecked (thankfully). If you’re trying to reduce the film as much as possible, I guess you could say that the first half of the film is a spiritual Slumdog Millionaire while the second is a psychedelic Castaway, and I wasn’t really drawn into the story until the latter half began.
Why not start with the four Pi’s (5, 11, Teenage and Adult). The first two ages are mainly present to establish Pi’s character as someone who only marches to the beat of his own drum, and while I understand the significance of these scenes to Pi’s development, I couldn’t help but think “Get on with it!” Once we finally get to Teenage Pi and the actual plot, however, I found myself consistently impressed with how well Sharma handled his character. Balancing between Tiger-Tamer, Maritime MacGuyver and plucky-but-scared human teenager, Sharma is very easy to root for and proves himself a great choice for the role. Khan is given a nothing to do as Adult Pi except to tell his story and explain his religious ideology, and no amount of acting powers on his part made me any less eager to get back to the actual story again.
Religious Under/Over Tones:
I say Under/Over because the film periodically shifts between verbally explaining its religious message and weaving in through the subtext of Pi’s journey across the Pacific. I’ll admit, as an Agnostic I probably can’t relate the same to this subject matter as a more Pious individual might. That being said, I would guess that the book did a much better job at weaving religion into the story than the film did, if nothing else because of the time limit of the film. Obviously the idea of believing in three separate religions at once requires a bit more exploration than a five-minute scene, but that’s the trouble with adapting a book like this: you’re going to have to crunch things down.
The End *Possible Spoiler alert*:
As I said above, I will do my best not to spoil anything but I have to touch on the ending. There is a twist given at the end that I didn’t even comprehend until it was halfway through being presented. At that point, I actually liked the spin on the story it offered, and was much happier with the movie as a whole because of that. Unfortunately, the stupid f*cking author has to have one last line that adds a sort of double-ambiguity to the entire thing, and I cannot tell you how frustrating that was for me. It would be like the Sixth Sense having Bruce Willis find out he was dead, then right at the end giving you a piece of information that suggests that he might actually be alive…
The Verdict: 8.5/10 Impressive
+ Very strong performance by Sharma
+ Absolutely Gorgeous (yet occasionally gratuitous) Special Effects
+ Intriguing (yet frustrating) Twist
- Religious themes are under-served and a bit confusing
Fast Films Reviews: 4.5/5
Vincent Loy: 7.1/10
Entertainment Maven: (Good-Not-Great)
Wylie Writes: “Just OK”
The Movie Review Blog: “A Cinema Lover’s Delight”