By Trista di Genova, The Wild East / Entertainment
Five stars: ‘One of the best films of the year’, even Roger Ebert agrees, and perhaps one of the only movies that is even better than the book. A beautiful tale, well told in this magical example of cutting-edge 3D cinematography.
Based on the gripping adventure tale by Canadian writer Yann Martel, the story centers around an Indian son of a zookeeper who survives a harrowing time at sea – by sharing a boat with a Bengal tiger.
The film’s protagonist is Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel, an Indian boy from Pondicherry. This is considered a ‘fantasy novel’, but its catch is the possibility of this being a true story. According to Wikipedia: Martel also stated that his inspiration for the book’s premise came from reading a book review of Brazilian author Moacyr Scliar’s 1981 novella Max and the Cats, about a Jewish-German refugee who crossed the Atlantic Ocean while sharing his boat with a jaguar.
An epic tale of ‘man vs. nature’
In the book and film, Pi is prompted to create two stories of what happened to him – one involving surviving at sea with a Bengal tiger, the other initially surviving with his mother, a Taiwanese shipmate and a cannibalistic French chef. Pi asks the question: Which story do you prefer? Obviously we choose the one with the astounding tiger. Why? It is the more magical, wondrous version. We are captivated by the story of this young man’s archetypal ‘man vs. nature’ struggle; through Pi’s knowledge of and deep respect for the animal kingdom as a zookeeper’s son, he knows Richard Parker (his name for the tiger) “can never be tamed, but he can be trained.”
With McGyver-like resourcefulness, Pi learns to survive at sea. Compare with this the plot of Hemingway’s short story “Old Man and The Sea”, in which the old man eventually vanquishes the greatest of fish, kills it, and barely returns home. But in Life of Pi, Pi learns how to live harmoniously with a tiger. Pi has an opportunity to kill the increasingly ravenous Richard Parker, but catches himself, with knife in hand (“What am I doing?”). Instead Pi finds a way to save him, save nature, to live with nature, because he loves it and has compassion for it. He feeds and waters Richard Parker and keeps the tiger alive. Pi, a Hindu, is vegetarian, but he kills fish (“I’m sorry” he sobs over even this killing of life) and starts fishing – to feed Richard Parker.
Pi’s deep respect for life surpasses that of his father’s, a zookeeper who Pi realizes was “a businessman.” “They have a soul; I have seen it in their eyes,” he tells his father. He grieves over the loss of his ‘friend’ Richard Parker, like a lover.
Pi is a character who is a lover of all nature, in its many-splendored glory, and that is this film’s central appeal.