When I heard that one of my favorite books was being converted into a movie, I was a little skeptical. Add one of my favorite directors, Ang Lee, and my skepticism started to recede. As many know, Lee is renowned for his artistic vision and cinematography. I fell in love with his vision of “Sense and Sensibility,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and “Brokeback Mountain.” To me, if there was a director who could capture the beauty and imagery of this book, it was Lee.
The movie and the book are great parallels of one another. The story revolves around a young Indian boy named Piscine (“Pool” in French) who spent much of his youth in Pondicherry, a French colony of India. Much of the book, and movie, include flash-backs of Pi’s life in India – the ridicule of his name, his father’s ownership of a zoo, etc. When Pi and his family decide to move to Canada due to political concerns (the book covers much more of this, including Pi’s exploration of various spiritualties/religions), they are chartered on a ship. En route, they encounter a fierce storm which capsizes their vessel, leaving Pi on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger, a hyena, an injured zebra, and an orangutan.
Being the only human on board with said animals, Pi naturally fears for his welfare. He observes the hyena killing the injured zebra and then turning on the orangutan. The orangutan, as one should note, cares for Pi in a very motherly fashion (remember that Pi’s whole family had drowned in the ship), and her death was very difficult for Pi to endure. Eventually, the hyena succumbs to death by the tiger. As further explained in the movie and novel, Pi names the tiger “Richard Parker” and the two of them set out to endure their lives aboard the ship in some strange sort of symbiotic relationship.
Lee’s vision transforms this novel into a brilliant masterpiece. Like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” you will be awed by the cinematography and artistic interpretation he presents. The young actors employed for the role of Pi (Gautam Belur, Ayush Tandon, Suraj Sharma & Irrfan Khan) are downright perfect and I particularly enjoyed Gerard Depardieu as the grizzled and difficult French cook (not a difficult stretch for him as one can imagine). Overall, as an avid lover of Yann Martel’s novel and Ang Lee’s work, I can say this is a beautiful movie and one many will enjoy (even if you haven’t read the novel – which you MUST do).
My only complaint is that while it is a beautiful representation of CGI technology, sometimes it looked a bit too manufactured and fantastical. Their work on the tiger, however, was downright genius (and I personally hate when they create CGI animals instead of working with the real thing – but in this instance it worked very well). The ending and symbolism of this work is what makes it truly a piece of art. If you’re a fan of “Inception” and “The Sixth Sense,” you will enjoy the twist at the end.
Overall, I think this is a lovely representation of the novel and a great movie all around. I highly suggest checking it out.
4 out of 5 stars