Ang Lee’s Life of Pi is a beautiful movie, bar none. It is visually stunning from the very beginning, with colors (and hummingbirds) jumping out at the audience. The story itself, based on Yann Martel’s award winning novel, is an exciting and wonder-filled one. The characters are all ably played, even Gerard Depardieu’s semi-cameo was well done. But the star of the movie has got to be the visual treat one gets as the film moves along its plot. Every visual aspect of the movie was stunning. Add to that the little nods to 3d that Lee showcases and one has a real banquet for the eyes.
The story itself is fascinating as well. It’s an intriguing plot, ostensibly a story about how Pi Patel grew up and eventually survives a horrific shipwreck, it is really a question asked of the reader. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen the movie or read the book, but it’s a question about belief, and how one chooses one’s beliefs.
Which is what spoiled it for me.
The central question of the movie, the one which leads the Writer (they never bothered to give him a name) to seek out Pi, is one that is, sadly, not new. While Pi’s story is amazing, and his answer to the question asked is clever and witty, I can’t think of anything better than that to say about it. There have been those who have said that the message of the film is inspiring, or that the film can make one look at one’s spirituality once more. Granted, it can. But really? A visual feast like this, plot twists and turns that can only be described as ridiculous, and we end up with a message that was, at best, witty?
Other reviewers have not been so kind, calling it “fortune cookie wisdom” and, admittedly, the thought crossed my mind as well. Pi’s argument for belief, if we are to base it on his story, is a very flimsy base to place ones beliefs in. But perhaps I am missing the point. Perhaps, in this cynical, sarcastic, proof-heavy world, a good story is what we need to start with.
I was wondering what about the movie left me so, well, so cold at the end. It wasn’t because it was not compelling, because it definitely was, nor was it because of any clear technical flaws in the film, because I do give all the films I watch leeway with regards to those. It was because Pi was telling a story of his survival, but I already knew the end because Pi was telling the story. There was no drama about whether he would survive, because he clearly did. Curiously, and perhaps, intentionally, the most dramatic moment occurs with no effects at all, but just Pi, telling a story to investigators about what happened to him. It is wrenching because of its difference from the rest of the film, and it is definitely meant to be. But, by that time, I was so saturated with color and wonder, that what should have been a jarring, shocking moment, was instead one I ended up viewing from a distance, as if this scene were less real than the others.
I may be wrong in being disappointed with the movie’s message, perhaps I expected too much from it. Take that away, and it remains a great visual adventure, shot expertly by a great director and performed with an excellent cast. It is a beautiful movie.
But, for some reason, this time, that wasn’t enough.