Did you ever own a “View-Master” as a child and did you love it? Essentially everyone I asked this question answered… “Yes and yes.” With that reference established I proceeded to tell them about the glorious screen adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel “Life of Pi.” The opening credits sequence of this film will return you unexpectedly to that time of total engagement and wonder, to the visually enhanced world the “View-Master” gave us. Within the same emotionally rich feeling the toy drew us into we find ourselves experiencing those same emotions again as we view this film. The visuals are so compelling, so rich they could exist simply on their own as works of art without a story line or plot. They are that good! There are many scenes through the course of the film that rival museum masterpieces in depiction, depth and composition. This is to the glory and grandeur of Lee’s film that illustrates the limitless possibilities of the emerging medium and technology of 3D. Until now the domain of the “Tech-Boys” the release of “Life of Pi” marks a giant step forward into the realm of the visual arts. Ang Lee (the artist supreme) has crossed into legend with this peace and surely the best from his oeuvre is yet to come. For the moment we have “Life of Pi;” see it, enjoy and be enraptured.
The world of Pi is also envisioned as much more than mere tranquility and beauty. It is brutal and frighteningly realistic. There are many discomforting scenes and times when the dangerous; potential man-eater feels literally at the viewer’s throat and you will find yourself wanting to escape the danger. There are moments of pulling back into your theatre seat and genuine dread. I know of no other film to accomplish such a feat in such a disturbing and alarming way. It is a fantastic thing of amazing dimension.
In short Pi is a young boy who finds himself alone on a life boat with an untamed Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker. Pi’s father was the owner of a zoo in India who for economic reasons leaves with his family by ship to make a fresh start in Canada. The ship sinks in a terrible storm; Pi’s family is lost, Richard Parker and Pi survive. The life boat, the ocean, the tiger and God are all that remain to Pi. Survival and faith are Pi’s dilemma and salvation. The telling of this Zen story is multi-layered and intricate.
Thematically Pi and the tiger’s story is one that has been told in many forms and countless versions. There are reminders of Kipling’s “Jungle Books” and Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe.” Only Blake’s “Tyger” captures the power of the beast more dramatically and poetically. This effort is universal in appeal as it searches for answers to eternal questions. The journey will reflect on your personal vision of life as you drift at sea with the unlikely pair of castaways. Stories of this nature will always be fresh, moving and entertaining; “Life of Pi” is in line of becoming a classic, an exceptional extravagance. The journey of pure survival and into the self is taken every day in less fearful and dramatic but equally meaningful ways. We share this bond with Pi. Ang Lee’s film making and the writing of Yann Martel come together in a thing of perfection. It is ours to enjoy as we return to an age of wonder.