The Occasional Movie Review

One of the bonuses of this time of year is the fact that my workplace forces us to take vacation during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. So this allows some time to catch up on some movie watching. Like finally watching a DVD I’ve had from Netflix since April. Yes, the shame burns me.

Without further ado, I present the first in a series of movie reviews for your enjoyment.

life_of_piFirst off, we have Life of Pi, based on a book that I’d heard people say could never be turned into a movie. I have not read the book, so I’m not even going to wonder how this couldn’t be done…

I’m going to try to not give away any spoilers here for those of you who haven’t seen this yet, but just in case something important does slip out, just understand that this film is amazing to watch anyway, so think as the spoiler as an opportunity to just enjoy the view.

The film is your typical story-within-a-story. Piscine Molitor Patel, known as Pi because he hated what his classmates called him in school, tells the story of himself and his family, and of surviving a shipwreck to an American writer who heard about his story while researching and writing another story in Pondicherry, India. Oddly enough, the writer is told that hearing Pi’s story will make him believe in God.

Pi is a smart kid, raised by his scientist father and religiously faithful mother in the French section of India. While his father has rejected religion for the ordered reasoning of science, his mother encourages Pi to discover different religions, so he begins simultaneously celebrating Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity.

His family ran a zoo in a botanical garden until his father decided that they needed to escape India and move to Canada, taking the zoo animals with them in the hope of selling them to other zoos once they arrived.

But the cargo ship they are travelling on encounters a storm somewhere east of Manila, and several of the animals and Pi’s parents and brother die when the ship sinks, and Pi finds himself on a life boat with an injured zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and a bengal tiger named Richard Parker. The hyena kills the zebra and the orangutan, but the tiger kills the hyena, and then turns its attentions to Pi. But as time goes on, the two develop an awkward friendship, with Pi more or less training the tiger as the tiger learns to rely on Pi for food and water.

As with all shipwreck stories, Pi is frequently hopeless, sometimes joyous, and alternately thankful and spiteful toward the God or gods he celebrates in the multiple religions he has seamlessly stitched together in his mind. But finally, the life boat washes up on the Mexican shore and Pi is rescued.

In an interview with Japanese officials who are investigating the shipwreck (because the ship was of Japanese origin), the officials question Pi’s account of his survival with the animals in the lifeboat. So he tells them a different version of the story which seems to satisfy them, but leads back to a basic theme that people believe what they want to believe.

This is a fascinating movie–both for the story, and for the images in it. Even in the scenes in the life boat, where there is nothing but water and horizon all around, the scenery is a valuable piece used to set the mood. And I had to keep in mind the fact that Pi is a teenager when he is shipwrecked and so the story is filtered through his perception. But, as I’m sure the story is intended to do, it makes you keep thinking about faith, reality, and relationships.

I can’t say it’s fun to watch–no movie that has someone’s life in almost constant peril is that fun to watch–but it is pretty easy and it’s paced well enough so that it goes by quickly. It’s well written, doesn’t get too bogged down in the flashback aspect of the adult Pi telling his story, and is visually amazing to watch.

All in all, a good movie to make you think about things. Four out of Five stars. 

See you tomorrow.