January 26, 2013

Life Of Pi (01/26/2013)

Lettergrade: B-

After a spectacular shipwreck, the staging of which rivals James Cameron's Titanic in terms of power and technical mastery, much of Life Of Pi takes place on a lifeboat lost at sea, inhabited only by our title character and an underfed Bengal tiger.

I like Ang Lee movies, generally, and although I appreciate the beauty, stunning imagery, and deliberate pace of this one, the picture ultimately reached a point in the second half where I found it a little frustratingly difficult to decipher, often leaving me feeling about as lost as Pi himself is.

The first half of the movie takes care to show Pi's family life and upbringing in Pondicherry, India. His father, a small business owner who operates a local zoo, among other endeavors, attempts to teach Pi and his brother various life lessons, not all of which sink in right away. Dad is particularly dismayed at Pi's interest in (and acceptance of) multiple religions, making clear that he'd much rather his son believe in something that he doesn't agree with than to accept all things blindly.

These early scenes are designed to show Pi's relationship with spirituality and religion and his view of the world, meaning that when all of it is tested in the film's later half, we have context and a frame of reference by which to relate to everything he's lost. I suppose this first half of the movie left much more of an impression on me than the second half… even if it is lengthy and doesn't necessarily appear to play to the movie's main substance, it provides interesting background and texture, both of which I oddly enjoyed much more than the main "meat" of the story itself.

I've spoken to a handful of people who loved the book but were similarly a little lukewarm on the movie (and vice versa). When I start to state my opinion, people often interject with, "the movie lost you when Pi got to the island, right?" - referring to a bizarre, carnivorous mass (vaguely shaped like Hindu deity Vishnu) that Pi encounters late in the film. It actually had lost me a bit before that... during the picture's impressionistic midsection which was deeply symbolic and almost plays like an abstract art film.

Even early on, though, I had a beef with the movie's hackney framing device… It's a novelist that the "present day" Pi (Irrfan Khan) tells his story to. Played by Rafe Spall, the significantly less rat-like son of Harry Potter actor Tim Spall, the "writer" is an empty cipher of a character who only really sits there looking slack-jawed, asking dumb questions, and having moving dialogue delivered at him. Plus, as a character, he's there because he's having trouble coming up with an idea for his second book and wants to hear someone else's amazing life story, which he'll then presumably turn into another successful book... all without having done much more than write everything down. Weak, man... just weak. I was kind of hoping that Richard Parker, the Bengal Tiger from the raft, would come out of nowhere at the end and eat him, but since he would have been, like, 70 at the time, I had a feeling it was unlikely.

No comments:

Post a Comment