Life of Pi (2012)

Rating: C+

Dir: Ang Lee
Star: Suraj Sharma, Rafe Spall, Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain

While visually very pretty, and occasionally stunning, this is, for a significant chunk of its running time, about a boy trapped on a lifeboat with a tiger. Which is about as interesting as it sounds. The story unfolds as the adult Pi (Khan) – it’s short for Piscine, but after suffering an understandably hellish time at school, he memorized 3.14159… to the Nth degree and was henceforth referred to a Pi – tells of his life to a conveniently-passing writer (Spall). It starts with him growing up in an Indian zoo owned by his parents; when on their way to Canada, the ship sank, leaving Pi marooned in the precarious position mentioned above. He had to come to some kind of agreement with the carnivorous feline, whereby Pi provides sustenance from the fish he catches, in exchange for not being eaten.

As the boat drifts across the Pacific ocean on the currents, the unlikely pair meet whales, flying fish and a carnivorous island. Or, at least, they do if you believe any of the tales told by Pi: the ending makes it more than possible this was a coping mechanism, for a rather nastier version of events. There are some interesting angles here, just as Pi’s cheerful adoption of multiple faiths, but the end product is robbed of much emotional impact, by the realization that it could be a load of bollocks. That’s one hell of an anti-climax and a surprise, given the director’s previous talents in this area. It’s the complete reverse of Big Fish where the narrator’s wild tales turn out to be truer than anyone believed.

This feels like a cheat, almost as much as the early sequence where the tiger apparently teleports a goat through the bars of its cage, a scene so badly done we were completely taken out of the moment, into a discussion as to whether goats had bones. There’s also little or no suspense due to the structure: we know Pi survives, because he’s telling the story. On the plus side, as noted, it looks lovely – not least the tiger, who is entirely CGI for the great bulk of the time. If the film really didn’t deserve the Dest Director award, being largely ineffective in terms of heart, I really can’t argue too much with the ones for special effects or cinematography.