For patient viewers, ‘Life of Pi’ will pay off

The credits travel through a world filled with colorful animals both big and small. Director Ang Lee’s film adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel of the same name is immediately intriguing. The beginning is a perfect example of what audiences can expect to come. The colors are dazzling as they dance across the screen and show a diverse wild population filled with flamingos, monkeys, and a very special adult male Bengal tiger. This early visual spectacle is both foreshadowing the beauty to come, but also an early introduction to a larger world littered with color and magic.

“Life of Pi” tells the story of a young man from his early years as a student of thought and religion to an extraordinary tale of survival following a disastrous shipwreck. Pi’s childhood stories are intriguing, interspliced with an introduction to the adult Pi played by the excellent Irrfan Khan (“Slumdog Millionaire”). From early childhood woes such as bullying and misunderstanding to fascinating introductions to new religions, “Life of Pi” possesses controversial ideas regarding religion, but the way Lee presents it makes it acceptable.
Pi and his family decide to move from India to Canada later in his life only to be met with a brutal moment in his youthful history. His entire family and many animals owned by the family die in a shipwreck that will certainly be regarded as one of the finest scenes of action benefiting from special effects in recent years.

This shipwreck is only the beginning for Pi. The film transforms from a dialogue-driven film to a nearly voiceless visual spectacle. Lee, production designer David Gropman, and cinematographer Claudio Miranda create gorgeous scenes filled with out-of-this-world blues, greens and yellows. Time passes for Pi and the audience’s only knowledge of days gone by is another tally etched into Pi’s lifeboat. Each day is new and carries with it an altogether different tone. For a film focused solely on the visual set pieces and a powerful nonverbal performance by Suraj Sharma, it’s important that the visuals are ever-changing and appealing.

Sharma is a newcomer who found himself in the lead role after following his brother to the audition. Sharma probably won’t see recognition from the Academy for his role in “Life of Pi,” but audiences will certainly find themselves empathizing with this charming character and pleading that he survives his journey home. Of course audiences will know that Pi survives considering an adult Pi begins telling the story, but that knowledge might escape some as they become entranced by the world Lee has constructed.

This is a film that must be seen by all those individuals tired of action films, romantic comedies and tweeny flicks. “Life of Pi” is something special that should be witnessed by as many people as possible, because it’s a beautiful coming-of-age tale that explores the importance of religion, survival and the world’s beauty.

The film does require a patient viewer, but patience pays off in the final act that reveals many potential truths that will stay with audiences as they walk out of the theater.

Patrick White

Movie fan Patrick White doesn't spare anyone's feelings when deciding if the latest Hollywood offering is trash or treasure. Catch his reviews on the latest theater and DVD releases in Saturday's paper.

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