Life of Pi is easily one of the most ambitious films attempted in recent memory. As someone who has not read the book, I was stunned as the complexities this story tried to touch upon. Ang Lee tries to tackle more than he has the capacity to do so, but this film is definitely an admirable effort.
Life of Pi follows Pi (played in his later years by Irfan Khan) as he recounts the events that will apparently make anyone believe in God. Pi tells a writer of his trials at sea after he becomes shipwrecked with a Bengal tiger during his young adulthood (played by Suraj Sharma in these sequences).
Many have claimed that Life of Pi is unfilmable, and after seeing this film I would almost have to agree. Ang Lee is clearly a talented filmmaker and puts all he has into this film. Still it comes up a bit short. This happens for a few reasons. The first is Ang Lee’s most egregious mistake. Lee puts in a bookending sequence (surrounding interactions between older Pi and the writer) that is extremely clunky. It really halts all momentum right as the film is beginning and distracts you from some interesting ideas the film brings up when it returns in the end. That being said it is somewhat saved from a phenomenal performance from Irfan Khan, who somehow makes spouting out a bunch of exposition interesting.
Another problem this film runs into is how it tries to approach religion. The film spends so much time on religion in the earlier sections, but it is in a very broad portrayal. With the immense beauty and dazzling effects this film showcases, this film actually seems like The Tree of Life for mainstream audiences at points. However, as the film begins to ask other questions, what once seemed an integral part to the film (religion) takes a back seat.
The film also struggles with introducing some more fantastical elements of the book and some of the last act twists. The film spends so much time in what seems to be a realistic portrayal of a boy lost at sea. However, the film abruptly introduces us to an oddly fantastical sequence that is clearly supposed to clue you in on a last act twist. However, the shift to this sequence and the twist is so jarring that it makes you question the more realistic approach the film takes in the first half of the film.
That being said, this film raises a lot of interesting questions and creates a very surprising and touching portrayal of a young man coming to terms with the man he is. The acting is surprisingly impressive from a cast that features very few big names. Suraj Sharma is stunning in his feature film debut. The film also includes immense beauty and some of the most impressive cinematography and visual effects in recent memory.
Life of Pi will leave you admiring such a beautiful film and may leave you asking some very intriguing questions, but there are some problematic narrative components throughout this film preventing it from being a true classic.