Film review: Life of Pi (2012)


Genre: Drama/Thriller

Director: Ang Lee

Cast: Suraj Sharma (Teen Pi), Irrfan Khan (Adult Pi), Gautam Belur (Boy Pi), Rafe Spall (writer)

The arrival of 3D film-making has rarely rendered as satisfying a result as in Life of Pi, the very entertaining and visually exceptional film by Academy-Award winner Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain & Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon)

Though it is initially portrayed as a spiritual journey of sorts, Life of Pi is an excellent story of survival that is perhaps too interested in the details of the ordeal to fulfill its ambitious promise.

Our protagonist, curiously named Pi (short for Piscine Molitor), is portrayed at three different stages of his life. The middle aged man is portrayed with poise and charm by Irrfan Khan, a gifted Indian-born actor who conveys more emotion and familiarity in a sentence than most actors do in an entire film. The story begins with him, sharing his tale of survival with a novelist seeking for inspiration.

As a boy, he is shown as a curious mind who is naturally drawn to the spiritual. His peculiar interest in finding God draws him to religion, almost comically so as he jumps from Christianity to Islam with innocence and spontaneity. His personal quest for God puts him at odds with his father, a practical businessman who is a man of science and facts. When a business opportunity presents itself, Pi’s father decides to run a zoo in a small city in India, giving Pi and the rest of the family a rather unique opportunity to grow up surrounded by wild animals.

As a teenager, Pi is portrayed with energy and conviction by Suraj Sharma. The performance is solid enough to not hurt the film but, as far as characters go, his contribution is definitely overshadowed by a Bengal Tiger, an astounding CGI creation named Richard Parker, with whom he shares most of the film’s running time trapped in a small boat after the transatlantic ship that was taking him and his family to Canada sinks in the midst of a storm.

The visual excellence of Life of Pi is both at a technical level and in terms of composition, designed with care and artistry by Ang Lee and a team of experts that managed to create a marvelous adventure that borders on the sublime. There’s so much attention in every shot, often driven by an interest in the poetic, using mesmerizing flourishes of colors that engulf the screen and captivate our senses.

It is clear from early on that Life of Pi is not for everyone. After all, it declares itself as a transformational film, one that may “make you believe in God”. To the strict non-believers, there might be a few scenes worthy of an eye-roll or even an unintentional chuckle. However, if we are willing to forgive its ambitious, some might say pretentious non-accomplished goal, then Life of Pi will become every bit as absorbing, emotional and magical as it was intended to be.

Rating: 4 / 5 (great)

♦ Candidate to the Blog of Big Ideas’ Top 250 Films Ever ♦



Next in the Blog of Big Ideas:

– Some thoughts on the development of the supertall skyscraper

– Best Moments in Film History (part 7): the girl recognizes the tramp

– A review of the original and entertaining Looper

– Alfred Hitchcock Special (part 1): North by Northwest

8 thoughts on “Film review: Life of Pi (2012)

  1. My colleague raved about this one constantly. She gave me a guest review where she could’ve given it a 6 out of 5 if she could, ahah. I don’t know if I’ll be able to catch this before its theatrical run is over but for sure I’ll be renting it. Glad you enjoyed it.

  2. I think your friend is not too far off. I’d have graded it higher than I did had it not been for a couple of very specific things. I think you should try to make an effort to see it in the theater as it’s visually striking, though I’m not sure whether it’s available anymore.

  3. Good to see some love thrown in the direction of Life of Pi. Awesome survival story, far superior than most I’ve seen. It’s currently sitting at #3 in my top films of the year, but I have yet to see many celebrated films that have been released in the last few months. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. It’s a beautiful movie, but the story is just lacking in some areas. Especially that ending that may have worked for the book, but as for the big-screen, not so much. Good review.

  5. A visually groundbreaking film, especially CGI tiger, I agree. Life of Pi almost felt like two different movies to me, before the journey to Canada, and at sea. Maybe Ang Lee should have split it up as they did with The Hobbit 🙂

    I think there can be spirituality in the second half of the film, if you want there to be spirituality. The story feels like an old-fashioned classic like Robinson Crusoe, which I liked.

    1. As you saw in my review, I really enjoyed Life of Pi. However, I thought there was potential in the film to be even better than it was. Perhaps the back story should have been changed a little leaving out some of the spiritual talk. I felt the film makers didn’t trust the audience enough to let us have our own interpretations.
      Thanks for stopping by

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