Based on the bestselling novel by Yann Martel, the film is narrated through flashbacks. A middle-aged, suburban father named Pi (Irrfan Khan) shares an afternoon with a novelist (Rafe Spall), who was told by a stranger to seek out his friend (Pi) to hear his remarkable story. Born in India, Pi’s parents ran a zoo while raising him and his older brother, Ravi. A curious young boy, Pi yearned for spiritual truth. He explored Hindu, Catholic and Muslim faiths, finding comfort in all three, despite his father’s distaste for religion. The young man’s spirituality is tested during the story’s 2nd act. Pi, now 16, is sailing across the world from India to Canada. His family has left their homeland due to pursue a new life in Montreal. They have brought with them all of the animals from their zoo, which they will sell off in the United States and be able to live a comfortable life.
Tragically, their boat runs into a massive storm and the voyage is doomed. Pi manages to get aboard the only lifeboat, seemingly alone. He watches the ship go down and must find a way to keep his strength knowing that he will never see his beloved family again. However, Pi quickly discovers that he is not alone. Miraculously, a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and Richard Parker, that dangerous tiger, have also survived and living in the boat with him. Richard Parker quickly devours the other zoo animals and Pi creates a makeshift raft that keeps him tethered to the boat, but a safe distance from Richard Parker. If Pi is to survive, he must find a way to co-exist with the tiger. From there, the film becomes a story of survival, both spiritual and physical, with Pi (and Suraj Sharma, the young actor portraying Pi) losing weight and possibly his mind.
I have not read Martel’s novel, but I hear it is challenging and that many believed it near impossible to translate into a movie. If that is the case, Lee and Magee have done a remarkable job. Life of Pi is a very accessible film, with a narrative construct that makes it easy to follow. Visually, the film is gorgeous to watch. Shot in 3D, it does have a few of those moments where it seems like Lee is showing off (a digital hummingbird, a stick pointing at the camera, etc.), but for the most part, you don’t have to see the film in 3D to get swept away by it. The score, by Academy Award winner Mychael Danna, is exceptional and hits all the right emotional points to keep you invested for the film’s long running time. However, it’s Sharma that makes the film work. This young actor carries the entire film on his back, succeeding, and then some.
The bonus features throughout the Blu-ray go to great lengths to show off the exceptional work of the visual effects teams and the great care that went into making Life of Pi not look like a CG movie. Despite the knowledge that so much was created in the computer, you quickly forget simply because the craftsmanship of the CG artists far exceeds anything I’ve seen in a long time. You also forget because the story is so compelling and leaves you emotionally drained and uplifted by the end.