Ang Lee fashions Yann Martel’s novel into a feast for the eyes. The sublime beauty of each and every picturesque scene, although mostly enhanced technologically, still remains an impeccable delivery of Life of Pi. The transposition of such a novel, one so colourfully written in black and white, from paper to screen is breathtaking. Life of Pi is therapeutic in its imaginative force of storytelling. President Obama even wrote in a letter addressed to the author saying that the story was ‘an elegant proof of God’. Indeed, the story seems to provide a way of understanding faith, but nonetheless it is an enquiry concerning human understanding.

From the beginning, it is understood that Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma) survives his days as a castaway. Life of Pi does not travel, but it makes us ponder. Like any biopic, be it false or true, we wish to listen and enjoy the preponderance of one’s major life experiences. We are onboard both figuratively and literally as we see Pi recount his journey in real time. For the majority of the film, Richard Parker, the tiger and young Pi are featured shipwrecked while having to survive together on a safe boat. The dialectic between the tiger and Pi provides a spiritual pilgrimage for both he and the audience, revealing a story that journeys into reason, faith, courage and fear.

It is understandable that the book was turned down plenty of times before it finally got published. And, for a long time afterwards, it was considered an unfilmable novel – until Lee stepped up to the plate. Despite our concern with only the blatant truth nowadays, Life of Pi provides us with a somewhat existentialist approach to it, made obvious through cultural references of Pi reading both Camus and Dostoyevsky. It leaves us with an argument for God via a Kierkegaardian sense, i.e. not motivated by brutal facts, but subjective truth. In the words of Martel, it’s not the ‘dry, yeastless factuality’ that counts, but the stories that amaze and last longer.

Personally, one aspect of the story that overwhelmed me was its representation of the will to survive. This psychoanalytical masterpiece was and engaging and thought-provoking, but due to the content, I feel it is hard to talk much about without disclosing spoilers. Nonetheless, we are presented with other possible paths that narrative could have taken, ones that are less astounding but more logically plausible. This act of breaking the fourth wall and interacting with the audience embraces Yann Martel’s advocation of the search for subjective truth and leaves us with a burning question – which story would you prefer?

Suraj Sharma, in his debut role, carries Life of Pi with the prowess of a seasoned professional and a talent beyond his young years, adding a wonderfully human quality to this delight for the mind. The enthusiasm in his strides and his minute mannerisms just made him perfect for the part. I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the 3D elephant in the room: to put it simply, this may be the first film since Avatar where it not only compliments the already stunning visuals, but enhances them tenfold. Lee has created a timeless adaptation of a timeless novel, a true delight for eyes, ears and mind.

Jonathan Jones

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5 Comments

  1. Vitamin168
    December 25, 2012 at 07:42 — Reply

    I really hate to see some naive critics to suggest canniblism happened during the 227 days at seas. Let me stress again, as a food scientist, no one can survive with eating just 4 people for 227 days at sea. Both raw and cooked heat rot within a few day. The only way is to catch fresh fishes and drink collected rain from the sky. The first story is the only solution in terms of food science.

  2. W
    December 27, 2012 at 06:17 — Reply

    Good review, though drawing parallels between this novel and Kierkegaardian ontology isn’t something for the general reader – Though it is very true. Equally valid is a comparison made by a few to Isaiah Berlin’s ‘Retreat to the Inner Citadel’ argument of perception in the face of restricted action. Otherwise, I look forward to seeing this.

  3. Kat
    December 31, 2012 at 09:33 — Reply

    Vitamin168 are you being ironic? Or did we see different films?

  4. Ma1nFr4me
    March 18, 2013 at 15:07 — Reply

    Is this film really a biopic? I thought a biopic is by definition a film that dramatizes the life of an actual person. As far as I know, Pi was a character imagined by Martel…

    • March 18, 2013 at 17:10 — Reply

      I suppose it’s only a biopic in the sense that Pi narrates his own life story within the film.

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