My skepticism about the movie stemmed from encounters with the book years ago. At the time, my parents were reading it, and a copy was always hanging around the coffee table. Tantalized by the life raft and tiger on the front cover, and the word "magical" on the back cover, I often flipped through it, reading snippets. The floating island fulfilled the promise of excitement and mystery, but the other chunks I read were a disappointment.
The movie, however, delivered the magic. From the opening tour of the Indian zoo, to the fantastic ocean scenes, "Life of Pi" is visually gorgeous. The landscapes of India, the marketplace full of colored scarves, the proboscis monkey at the zoo; the huge waves of the storm that sinks the ship; the glowing plankton and jellyfish, the jumping whale, the shining fish passing through the water; the endless sky: with so much beauty, the story is hardly necessary to make the movie enjoyable. The tiger, Richard Parker, terrifies but also enchants. (For instance, he can't get back into the lifeboat after jumping into the ocean to catch fish, and he is absurdly pathetic as he clings to it by his claws, fur waterlogged and ears flattened back.) Pi's acting, solo for much of the film, is completely convincing. The story, even at its most tragic, contains enough absurdity and beauty to tip the balance well away from despair or boredom. All in all, it was a great movie to see in theatres, if not necessarily one I'd watch over and over.
Some more notes:
- O. jumped a lot during the movie. He told me he found "Life of Pi" more exciting than "Skyfall." The tiger, sharks, and shipwreck scared him in a way that explosions and violence don't.
- I enjoyed the treatment of religion, particularly Pi's encounter with a priest in a chapel where he has gone to drink the holy water on a dare. As a Christian, I don't agree with Pi, who calls himself a Muslim-Catholic-Hindu, but I liked his presentation of his beliefs, which fit comfortably within Hinduism's open arms. I think this is the only time I've seen a discussion of Hindu philosophy in a popular movie.
- I kept getting distracted from the story by wondering about how they made it and whether the tiger was real. More research necessary here.
- Pacing was uneven: after the floating island, everything sped up dramatically and rushed to the movie's end.