Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Life of Pi (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Life of Pi

Ang Lee's "The Life of Pi" based on the beloved novel of the same name by Yann Martel has arrived in a cloak of henna and saffron. Lee, who is to be applauded for treating his tale with the care of an Indian miniature, uses a florid palate and this visual mix. He’s nothing less than a virtuoso that would make Disney himself pea-green with Envy.

From the start, we are at a zoo in Pondicherry, treated to a veritable Who's Who of the animal kingdom.  There are pink flamingoes, proboscis monkeys and an espresso-faced sloth that looks us right in the eye. Most of the animals, at first, are seen as if they are above us as human interlopers. At one point, we look through the bars of a cage. And, as this is a film shot in 3D, we realize that we are perhaps more "animal" than these spectacular beings who are just going about their daily lives.

With these first frames we are hooked.

This is the story of Piscine "Pi" Molitor, (so named from a relative with a swimming fetish) whose family owns a zoo. As a young boy Pi (Suraj Sharma) is spiritually inquisitive and takes on all three religions, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity on equal ground. Pi is Buddhist as well, for in his realm, (wise beyond his years) both animal and human have suffering and survival as their universal center.

One fateful day, the zoo is forced to relocate to Canada. The mighty ship is quite a Noah's Ark, with every animal on board, including a surly Gerard Depardieu as a chef. The ship takes on water and Pi takes to a lifeboat with a zebra, an orangutan and one numinous tiger named Richard Parker, named from a mutinous character in Edgar Allan Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.

Pi is existentially forced to sink or swim as it were with Richard Parker the tiger. Is he something to fear? Or is he a guardian? This is one of the film's central questions.

The first half of "The Life of Pi" is affectionately visualized right out of the pages of a Tin Tin comic book by Herge, while the second half is a tense cat and mouse battle of wills between Pi and Parker in the tradition of directors Danny Boyle and Ridley Scott. There are also compelling interludes of an adult Pi (Irrfan Khan) relating his philosophic odyssey tooth and nail---literally. By filming the adventure in 3D, Ang Lee expresses the concrete reality that we are all players in an immense comic-hero story, no matter if we are cat-eyed or clothed.

"The Life of Pi" is a kaleidoscope for the eyes. The visuals alone are masterful and the 3D is no trifling popcorn gimmick here. And while the film does anthropomorphize its animals a bit, it doesn't pander or dumb down the audience. Ang Lee approaches his film like calligraphy. Everything has its place and point and even the empty, bluer-than-blue skies are spoken for.

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