Director: Ang Lee
Very calm in his adult years: Irrfan Khan
Very weary in his adventure at sea: Suraj Sharma
Maybe the first person to ever impress people by memorizing π: Ayush Tandon
I like saying his name: Gautum Belur
Very nice eyes: Gita Patel
Cool 'stach: Adil Hussain
Also has a great name: Gerard Depardieu
The stupid biologist in Prometheus: Rafe Spall
What It's Good For:
-seeing a lackluster frame-narrative
-Ang Lee recovering from Woodstock
-the Zebra sounds (but not the sad ones)
-the Tiger, obviously
-giving itself a big mission of a story that will "make you believe in God"
-it's very debatable that the movie succeeds in its mission
-the end is very abrupt
-the story is very...step-by-step (has a problem with his name, solves the problem; likes a girl, starts seeing the girl, then has to leave the girl; tiger is aggressive, tiger is less aggressive, tiger respects Pi, tiger and Pi share a moment together, tiger leaves) (you're maybe thinking what story isn't step-by-step? That's a whole other discussion. But I think it's very...obvious here. Same could be said about The King's Speech but TKS lingers in some steps, like a travler who stops to admire or reflect on certain scenes. I feel LoP keeps a very...even pace, like someone who just walks.)
-the island in the shape of a large human, who could be a Buddha figure, is a little...heavy handed? I get that the film has a religious theme, but...
-I don't think anything really...exciting happens?
When the "twist" comes, it comes in the form of the Japanese Ship Company People saying they don't believe Pi's story. Could he please tell something less fantastic, something more honest? So, to recap, Pi tells the story about the cook who is the hyena killing the zebra who is the Japanese sailor and then the orangoutang is actually Pi's mom and the hyena kills her too, so then Pi is actually the tiger and kills the hyena/cook, then must battle with his own self, with the tiger representing all his pain and frustration and new self-image of a person capable of murder. Basically, the fantastic story becomes a loss of innocence tale.
Then Rafe Spall, who does nothing but provide a way for us to listen to the story, asks which story is true? And Old Pi asks him which he likes better? Rafe says he likes the animal story better.
The viewer is left at this point to decide for himself or herself what was true and what wasn't. Is the animal tale real or is the humans killing humans story real?
We could say:
A: the animal story is real because the only reason Pi changed the story was to placate the Japanese Ship People.
B: the humans killing humans story is real because Pi was still trying to cope with the loss of his family, the cook murdering his mom, and then Pi exacting vengeance on the cook, basically, trying to deal with the end of innocence and the titanic wave of grief and confusion he must have felt while adrift on that boat, so he made up the animal story because it helped him make sense of what he couldn't otherwise comprehend, but when pressed by the Japanese Ship People to explain Pi cracks and reveals what really happened.
C: the animal story is real because when Rafe is reading the official report he reads the line saying Pi survived while in a boat with an adult bengal tiger. Note Rafe's smile here. The animal story must be real!
D: the animal story isn't real because how the hell does a human tooth get wrapped up in a leaf? That part of the story makes no sense. Okay. So maybe the animal story is real, but did he really find an island like that? No, I don't buy it. So parts of the animal story are real but not all of it.
E: the humans killing humans story isn't real because did you hear HOW Pi was telling it to the Japanese Ship People? It sounded like he was making it up right there!
F: the humans killing humans story is real because it's a plot twist, why else have it if it isn't real?
G: (from Jared (see comments): I disagree with your (E) it seemed to me that the second story was real based on how he was telling it to the Japanese company guys. He was telling it as if it emotionally impacted him, not quite like he was making it up.
I would say it doesn't matter what story is the real story. That we can believe in the savage one or we can believe in the fantastic one. I could compare Life of Pi to the end of Inception.
Does it matter if Cobb is in a dream or not in a dream? No. Because either way he's content.
Does it matter if Pi lived on a boat with a tiger or killed the cook that killed his mom? Um. Sort of?
In Inception, we can make the argument that Cobb getting his kids back is like a dream come true. That, metaphorically, the line separating dream from reality is gone. This would explain the final shot. But, even if Cobb is in a dream and not really with his kids...he doesn't care, the dream feels real enough, and after struggling for so long, he's content to finally rest. In either situation Cobb gets to exist with his kids and he's happy with that.
In Pi...there's a huge difference between a kid living on a boat with a tiger and a kid murdering Gerard Depardieu. They are two fundamentally different stories. Even if you make the argument about the tiger representing the internal struggle of Pi trying to survive with what he did (and saw), trying to tame the animal inside him--and you equate Pi declaring he would have died without Richard Parker as Richard Parking representing not only the animal inside Pi but also his survival instinct, which would explain Richard Parker leaving once Pi was on land--if you make this argument what do we have? We have an adult male who continues to tell people the story that isn't true. What's that say about this man's mental health? The movie then becomes a tragedy. Pi is someone who has been broken by an experience in his teenage years and despite having a wife and kids and sounding okay he is actually mentally wounded to this very day. Which means Life of Pi isn't the affirming story it seems to be, but is, rather, I think, a horribly sad portrait of someone who avoids facing their problems or is incapable of coping with their past and must cling to a false story.
If the animal story is true, if the island did occur, if the story is, as it was told, real, what does the narrative accomplish by introducing doubt? Is this getting at religion? That people hear fantastic stories which could be the Hand of God at work but they want something they believe is more real because they can't believe in such things? So basically Rafe buying into the animal story rather than the humans killing humans story is showing Rafe believes in God.
The only problem with this argument: how does the humans killing humans story show God doesn't exist? Maybe the animal story with the island is more...obvious about God. The humans killing humans story is less...obvious about God, but that doesn't mean believing that's the true story means you don't believe in God. We could say the Hand of God was at work in making sure Pi wasn't trapped below deck when the ship flooded, that He helped Pi get on the lifeboat, that He gave Pi the strength necessary to defeat the cook, and then the continued strength to survive for 200-some days on a boat, at sea, that He provided food and a current and everything that led Pi to land, that God brought the man that found Pi, that God preserved Pi until he was in the care of the hospital.
So, if you're arguing the humans killing humans story is the introduction of doubt to set-up a contrast between Believes and Non-Believers, then you're basically saying God only works in FANTASTIC ways and can't be found or seen in less fantastic stories.
I ask again: why introduce the humans killing humans part into the story if it isn't real?
If it's not real: I can't think of a logical reason for it to exist. If it was for the religious contrast, a God-fueled story compared to a God-less story, I think this is insulting to God. Or, if not insulting, a very narrow-minded and childish view about religion and how God-work works, because the film is saying God can only be found in fantastic actions and not in the every day.
If the humans killing humans is real: again, this says a whole lot about the damaged psyche and shattered worldview of Pi.
There's one thing that bothers me. And I don't know if it's evidence or if it's just bad writing.
The Japanese Ship People want to know how the ship sank. That's all they ask Pi. They don't ask him how he survived. They don't ask him what happened while he was at sea. Or maybe they do? But we don't see it or hear it. All the movie shows us is them wanting to know how the boat sank. Even after Pi tells them the story involving the animals, they say, fine, but tells us how the boat sank! What's Pi do? Tell them more about what happened on his life boat!
It's like meeting a friend for lunch, and they seem okay, but maybe a little weird...When the food comes, they don't really eat. You ask if there's something wrong with the Mac & Cheese, and the friend says there is nothing wrong with the Mac & Cheese, just maybe they don't love Mac & Cheese as much as they thought they loved Mac & Cheese. You say, "Excuse me," and suddenly your friend is telling you they're filing for a divorce and how they cheated on their spouse, etc. etc. etc.
So. If all the Japanese Ship People wanted to know was why the boat sank, why did Pi tell them what happened on the life boat? And if after he told them about the animals their response was to ask, again, why the gigantic ship sunk, not what happened to Pi, why did Pi tell them another version about what happened to him?
Is this just horrible writing, with Pi talking about what wasn't asked as a way to introduce/force the less-fantastical story into the equation to set-up the "Are you a Believer or are you not a believer?" situation into the end of the narrative?
Or is it accurate writing, capturing how people who are in the midst of a psychological storm can respond to general questions, using the the general question as a platform to talk about the storm? Which means the humans killing humans plot is what really happened.
I guess it really doesn't matter if Richard Parker was on the lifeboat or not, because either way I think the narrative fails.
It fails as a religious parable because it makes the case God only works in splendid and amazing ways.
It fails as a movie with a plot twist because the twist reveals Pi has extreme psychological problems. That in and of itself isn't a bad thing. Fight Club does the same thing. Fight Club, however, explores the psychological problems and delivers a resolution. Life of Pi ends the movie within five-minutes of introducing the twist and ends by showing us Pi has a wife and kids...??????????? "The Usual Suspects ends even more abruptly after the twist!" This is true. But the twist in Suspects provides the conclusion/catharsis. Who is Keyser Soze? Oh! That's who! Same with The Sixth Sense. Haley Joel's revelation allows Willis to find catharsis. Same with Fight Club and Jack/Tyler. Life of Pi just goes "WILDCARD BITCHES!" and jumps from the back of a moving van/picture. I thought this was funny and appropriate in It's Always Sunny. I find it stupid in Life of Pi.
Maybe I'm missing an angle of this movie? If so, let me know in the comment section. We can discuss.
Did I Like It:
Meh. There were visuals I enjoyed. Can't argue with those. Especially when the water becomes a mirror. I don't think the 3D did much? I mean, it was cool at times. But I wouldn't say it's comparable to Hugo or Avatar. If you see it in 2D, I think it's the composition of shots that has power, not the depth of field. Hugo had some crazy depth of field going on.
My main problem is with the conclusion of the narrative. "It's isn't the destination but the journey that's important!" Maybe if you''re talking about driving 200 miles to see a baseball game, you have a great time on the trip, but when you get to the game it's sold out, so you have to turn around and drive back. The journey was worthwhile, even if you didn't get to see the game. You date someone and have two good years, but then they cheat on you and it ends horribly. Didn't good things happen in those two years? I'm not saying Life of Pi isn't worth watching. But in a lot of narratives, whether books or movies, the end can make or break a story. Take Shelter is an example of a movie I thought sucked until the last 25 seconds. It went from a 4 to an 8.5. Just like that. Life of Pi, for me, steadily lost points.
Other than the conclusion, I think the narrative is shallow. It moves forward at such a pace that it never really...develops anything. The things most developed are Pi's second-ship, his fishing skills, and how he handles Richard Parker. Basically, we see Pi's survival story happen, but we don't really get to see how it affected Pi. All we end up knowing is that he's pretty calm, he lives in Canada, and he has a wife and kids, and may or may not be psychotic.
It would be more interesting to me if the movie did more with Old Pi. We have zero idea how his present-day day-to-day experience has been affected by his journey. So what's the point of the frame narrative? The only purpose it serves is to give us the story. Old Pi does nothing but talk. And Rafe Spall's character is generic as a rain drop.
What would happen if we didn't have the frame narrative? I think the plot is stronger. Especially if you tack 10-30 more minutes onto the movie and show us what happened to Pi post-shipwreck, and here you have the twist about what really happened. And we see how Pi is trying to deal with his psychological duress. Should he believe in the story that protects his innocence but limits him because he knows he's lying to himself, or the one that, once accepted, will allow him to move forward, but hurts to admit is real. You could end the movie with Rafe Spall's character SHOWING UP. And we don't know which version of the story Pi will tell. Boom. End. Or you have Pi tell Rafe, "In order to tell you the truth, I must first tell you a lie." Boom. End. We know Pi will be okay.
As is, Life of Pi is nothing more than a...wait for it...SLICE OF PIE. I can make terrible puns at the end of my reviews just like the professionals who get paid for it!
And if you liked the analysis, keep in mind, we have a book.