Life of Pi
American audiences who go to the movies to see Hollywood celebrity actors
might assume they wouldn’t be interested in a film starring Irrfan Khan and
Suraj Sharma. But they would be missing out on a unique cinematic experience.
They said it couldn’t be done---making this particular book into a
movie---but Taiwanese/American Director Ang Lee fearlessly combines CGI
technology with a charming little tale set in French India, based on the
best-selling book by the Spanish-born writer Yann Martel.
Pi Patel (Sharma, though at younger ages played by child actors) is a teenager
whose family owned a small zoo in the French section of India. He took his
nickname because his full French name sounded too much like an English slang
word, and the abbreviation reminds people of the Greek mathematical insignia
instead. He likes math, anyway, and does well at school, generally. He
remembers being reprimanded by his father for getting too friendly with the
tiger. His father says the tiger is not your friend; he acts on his instincts,
and he might be trained, but never tamed. His father insisted that young Pi
witness the tiger attacking and eating a tethered goat, just to demonstrate
his true nature. It was a lesson Pi would not forget, and would actually serve
him well later.
Pi is devastated when his father announces at the dinner table one evening
that because of the political and economic situation in their own country, the
family---father mother, younger brother--- is going to move to Canada. And
they are going to move the zoo animals on the boat to Winnipeg with them. It
was a Japanese vessel, leaving from the Philippines. A couple of days out to
sea, and there is a terrific storm. Pi, awakened by the sudden clamor, runs up
on the heaving deck, having fun just slipping and sliding around, and being
buffeted by the strong winds, unaware that there is truly grave danger here. A
series of random happenstances leaves him stranded in a lifeboat as the only
Pi’s only company is of the four-footed variety. There’s a zebra with a
broken leg. There’s an orangutan that doesn’t like the hyena, and
there’s a stowaway rat, as well, and then there’s…..the full-grown
Now we suddenly convert from a whimsical little coming-of-age story to an
exotic, unlikely survivor epic that may or not be fanciful, and may or may not
be metaphoric, and may or may not be enhanced by artistic license. This is
part of what the viewer has to decide. Pi and the tiger also have an adventure
together on a remote Pacific island, populated entirely by….meerkats?
Yes, there is much beautiful photography of luminescent seascape, including
underwater “glow-fish”, and the giant moon reflecting on the gentle waves.
We even have some sort of enormous Leviathan (Psalm 104:26), suddenly emerging
out of the sea, and just as mysteriously disappearing. Meanwhile, Pi strains
to find food (he’d previously been a vegetarian), and catch the fresh water
when it rains, and somehow keep himself sane by talking to the animals.
How unlikely is it that he would eventually drift on to the beach in Mexico?
Well, about as likely as developing a co-dependent relationship with a wild
tiger. But “Life of Pi” is not really about the rationality or
believability, anyway; it’s more about the epic voyage of self-discovery
that requires some version of bending memory on everyone’s part. Even
re-telling the story, much later, to a writer, and telling him that he could
do with it whatever he wishes, including an alternate version especially
constructed for the official delegates of the Japanese shipping
company….well, it’s the kind of interactive experience where the viewer
still has to decide what to appropriate. In the case of “Life of Pi,”
though the pacing is exquisitely deliberate, as with any artistic rendering,
the perception and appreciation are all in the spirit of the beholder.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving,