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Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The Life of PI

"There is a man who can tell you a story that will make you believe in God."

Ang Lee's movie of Yann Martel's novel is technically astounding, but also works on an emotional level and I haven't had so much fun with a movie in a long time. I'd not read the novel - I've a phobia against books that win the Booker prize ever since falling for the hype surrounding Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses and finding the book a mind numbing slog. However after seeing this movie I am most certainly going to read The Life of Pi.

The first part of the movie concerns the early life of schoolboy  Piscine Molitor Patel who shortens his name to Pi after enduring taunts from his schoolfriends who call him, 'Pissing Patel.' Pi's father owns a zoo which gives the young child a pretty good lifestyle as well as some understanding of animal psychology. Pi is born a Hindu but he soon starts to become interested in other religions and is mocked by his family who tell him, that he can't follow three religions. This makes no sense to Pi who just wants to love God and sees no problems in subscribing to so many different doctrines.

The second part of the movie sees Pi's family decide to sell their zoo over a land dispute with the government, and they decide to sell the animals to various zoos around the world before emigrating to Canada. In the second part of the novel, Pi's family embarks on a Japanese freighter to Canada carrying some of the animals from their zoo, but a few days out of port from Manila, the ship succumbs to a storm and sinks, resulting in his family's death. During the storm, Pi escapes in a small lifeboat with a spotted hyena, an injured Grant's zebra, and an orangutan. And although we don't know it initially but there is a ferocious tiger called Richard Parker (after a mix up with the animal's paperwork when initially bought by the zoo).

From here on in we get an amazing movie that projects real personalities on the animals aboard Pi's ark while remaining true to the actual nature of such creatures. The hyena is a nasty creature and eventually attacks and kills both the zebra and the monkey, before Richard Parker attacks and eats it. From there on in the movie becomes a battle of survival on the high seas between the sixteen year old Pi and the man eating tiger. Some of the scenes are truly incredible - the humpbacked whale section took my breath away and the storm of flying fish during which Pi finally exerts his dominance over Richard Parker is absolutely beautiful.

I found myself glued to the screen and will most certainly watch this movie again - the ending is ambiguous and it is left up to the viewer which of the two stories told here that they chose to believe. It doesn't matter which though because this is a brilliant movie that delivers two hours of true cinematic magic.

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