I haven’t read the novel “Life of Pi” yet; it’s published in 2001 by Yann Martel; so I am sticking to the storytelling in the art form of movie. Spoiler follows so if you haven’t seen the movie you might find what follows would spoil your movie experience. Go see the 3D screening by all means, it helps tell the story.
“Life of Pi” follows the adventure of an Indian boy during his cast away in the sea, when the whole family migrated from Pondicherry (India) to Winnipeg (Canada) and the Japanese cargo vessel was sink by the storm. The beginning of the movie was introduction to the character Pi (or Piscine Molitor Patel, who got his name from a public French swimming pool but found himself mocked by his school friends.) It was told by a grown up Pi telling his story to an author, told in flashbacks. He then consoled himself and introduced himself as Pi for short, derived from Pi, the 16th Greek alphabet which is also a mathematical constant that is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. It might sounds irrelevant to the story, but it’s not.
Pi’s childhood in Pondicherry (brought up by parents who own a zoo) was filled by his curiosity about things in live, spiritual and religions. Because of his place where he grew up, he came to contact with many animal. He also had adopted major religions as way of life; he was born with hinduism, he learned the way of Jesus and also practice shalat (religious daily ritual practice in Islam.) His brother even teased him for Judaism and just before the ship sunk he met a Japanese character of Buddhism.
Then their family had to sell the zoo, migrate to Canada and bring all their animal with them for fortune in the new land. But in the middle of the voyage, the ship encountered a perfect storm and sunk, while Pi managed to enter a life boat. Later on Pi discovered that he brought his animals with him on the boat: a Bengali tiger named Richard Parker (with whom he had fascination with back in the zoo,) a zebra with broken leg, an orangutan and a hyena. Jungle law applied in the single life boat in early days of Pi being a cast away, leaving him with only Richard Parker.
Being traumatized by his experience with Richard Parker, he had a struggle to survive with Richard Parker in the life boat, so Pi deviced a small raft. As the days in the open sea counted, Pi learned his relationship with Richard Parker, with things happening once in a while, some small subtle things, while others extraordinary things, like when the whale jumped his boat and being stranded in an odd island. Everything leads to his boat stranded in coast of Mexico where Richard Parker wandered into the jungle and Pi was saved by locals.
By the end of the story Pi was interviewed by Japanese investigator to investigate the ship for insurance purposes. At first he told the story with the animals, where they find it irrational and urged him to tell the real story. next he told the ‘real’ version of the story, with no imagery.
Comedic moments here and there, a spiritual path has been set in the childhood intro, so everything is symbolic. Once Pi was cast away in the life boat things got spiritual, although still has few comedic moments. The photography was breathtaking AND also spiritually symbolic, so I’d suggest a 3D experience. Everything is intertwining and we seems to get immersed and lost in dimensions. Scoring was also superb. And I am not anti-CGI. I think it’s just a tool for director to tell the story. In a featurette Yann Martel at first doubt that the novel can be adapted into a big screen presentation. But Ang Lee, he admitted, gets it right.
Spirituality & Symbolism
My interpretation is that the whole story is one’s journey to find God; in which Pi (the man) come to realize and conquer Richard Parker (something ‘wild’ inside the man.) Beginning to know Richard Parker back in the zoo, along the open sea scenes Pi learned how to interact and conquer him (thus man conquer what’s ‘wild’ inside of him.) Along with the circumstances where man suffers from what happened to him (Pi lost his family, cast away in the sea, lack of food, while still has to struggle with ‘the tiger’) at the latest moment when he surrendered totally to God, the he come to enlightenment and ‘see’ God during the lightning storm scene. And it has nothing to do with religions (Pi believes and has faith in all religions.) In other quiet moments where Richard Parker see his own reflection in the still water, zooming in, it’s a portrayal of microcosm journey, as well as macrocosm journey portrayed by overhead large area photography. The story (with the animals) Pi told the interviewer is also symbolic to the other ‘real’ story. It came to no matter which story is true. The icing on the cake is that at the end Pi told the story to an author, which hints that the author might be the real Yann Martel, thus the story might be a true story. Intertwining between fact and fiction.
Great movies doesn’t straight-forwardly tell so much that leaves little to imagination. Although it was a big production with big vision, Life of Pi still leaves open rooms for interpretation. Personally for me it’s a story about man’s journey of searching for God. Will try to read the novel if I have time.
P.S.: Came to realize (from when I embedded the theatrical trailer) that “Paradise,” a track off Mylo Xyloto by Coldplay is
the soundtrack of the movie just the soundtrack for the trailer. Well fitted song, for we are searching for paradise.