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Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012 11:25 am

Pi a dazzling exploration of the spiritual world

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Suraj Sharma as Pi Patel in Life of Pi.

I’ve become a skeptic where the modern 3-D process is concerned. The Hollywood studios have taken a good thing and overused it to the point that they’re starting to see a downturn in revenues where movies using this method are concerned. It’s gone from being a truly special technique that added an exciting dimension to filmmaking (check out Coraline or Avatar for early well-made examples) to being a way to milk a few extra bucks out of filmgoers while adding nothing intrinsically valuable, either visually or narratively, to the movie it’s being used on.

With that being said, I can’t urge you strongly enough to see Ang Lee’s Life of Pi in the 3-D format. Much like last year’s Hugo, it’s a film that seamlessly integrates the process into the storytelling and becomes an important aspect in underscoring not only the story’s sense of wonder but in building and sustaining an emotional connection to the main character’s plight. If ever there was a story that was required to be told in 3-D this is it.

Based on the novel by Yann Martel, and thought to be unfilmable for years by directors as varied as M. Night Shyamalan, Alfonso Cuaron and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the story concerns a young man’s search for spiritual enlightenment who’s forced to endure a trial that ultimately provides him with the answers he seeks. That young man is Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma) who becomes fascinated by various religions at a very young age. Conflicted over whether he should adhere to the Christian, Hindu or Muslim faith, he decides instead to embrace as many aspects from each as he can.

However, these are all put to a test when he becomes the sole survivor of a cataclysmic tragedy. En route to Canada with his family, who are moving with a large menagerie of animals to set up a zoo there, the freighter they are traveling on sinks during a massive storm. The sole survivors are Pi, a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, an orangutan, a hyena and a zebra, all of whom share a lifeboat. The sinking of the ship, an incredible set piece, occurs 45 minutes into the film and for the next hour we see Pi try to survive his ordeal. Needless to say, Darwinism kicks in quite quickly once the animals start to get hungry and it isn’t long before Pi and Parker form a tenuous truce in order to survive.

Among the many challenges facing Lee is that with only one setting for a majority of the movie, the story could very well become static. This is avoided through the relationship Martel builds between the two survivors seeing how Pi tries to gather water and food to nourish their bodies as well as maintain a sense of order so his mind stays in tact. As fantastic as the story is, the logic it employs does hold water.

Lee pulls out all of the stops and gives us sights never before seen on film. The depth of field provided by the 3-D process allows him to effectively impart how dire Pi’s plight is. We get a sense of how vast and seemingly endless the ocean is. Equally impressive are the wonders the deeps hold. A school of jellyfish sets the ocean aglow, giving the lifeboat an ethereal glow that suggests they’ve entered another plain of existence. These moments, as well as a visit from a blue whale, a stop at an island inhabited by thousands of meerkats and Parker himself, who’s a digital creation for much of the time he’s on screen, make the Life of Pi a true wonder to behold. However, it is the spiritual journey the main character goes on and the conclusions he reaches that make it a film that will speak to your soul.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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