November 22, 2012 -- This thought-provoking tale of survival on the high seas works on a variety of levels, but best of all as a visual feast. It is brimming with wondrous, memorable images.
In the early part of the film is one of those memorable scenes of a man swimming in a pool, seemingly shot from beneath him, underwater, showing the sky above in perfect detail through the crystal clear water. It isn't unusual for a film to have a memorable scene like this in it, but there are half a dozen memorable scenes of this quality in this film. Another one, shown in previews of the film, features bioluminescent organisms glowing in the ocean at night, highlighted by a whale breaching right next to the lifeboat. Another similar scene not only has glowing animals underwater, but stars reflected on the water.
The story of the film is told in flashbacks. A writer (played by Rafe Spall of “Prometheus”) in search of a story, visits a man, Piscine Molitor Patel (played by Irfan Kahn of “Slumdog Millionaire”) to hear a remarkable story of a sea voyage which is also a spiritual journey. It turns out that the man is quite a storyteller.
First, he explains to the writer how he got his name (from the swimming pool in France in the scene described above) and how he managed to shorten his awkward first name to Pi in order to avoid humiliation in grade school. He also describes his spiritual development, starting with his native Hinduism, which later branches out into both Christianity and Islam, the three major religions of his native India. The image he mentions, of Krishna, in whose mouth can be seen all of creation, returns in some of those memorable scenes of the next story he tells. That story is about his survival over 200 days at sea in a lifeboat with an adult Bengal tiger.
Pi's family, in the process of moving from India to Canada on a cargo ship, which is also carrying zoo animals to be sold in Canada, runs into a big storm at sea and sinks. Pi (played as a young man by Suraj Sharma) escapes the wreck in a lifeboat with several animals, including a Bengal tiger. When the tiger gets hungry, Pi knows it will try to eat him, so he devises ways to put some distance between him and the tiger, and devises ways to catch fish to feed the tiger. Eventually, he and the tiger come to an understanding, an uneasy detente.
While the tiger is dangerous, and difficult to deal with, Pi eventually comes to believe that the tiger is what kept him alive so long at sea, when he might have died alone. Man and tiger have many adventures, including landing on a strange floating island. Eventually, the lifeboat lands on a beach in Mexico and the tiger disappears into the jungle.
But is that what really happened? Pi also tells an alternate account of what happened in the lifeboat. Pi, the writer, and the investigators of the disaster all agree on one thing, however. The story of Pi and the tiger is the better story, and so it is. Often in life, it all comes down to the better story. This film has a good one. It rates a B+.
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