animaldoctor’s review published on Letterboxd:
Alright, time for a bit of a break from the Twilight saga before the final two movies with the second of three movies assigned to me for my final project for film literature. I haven't read the book and I hadn't seen the movie until today, and I gotta tell you, this movie was a complete journey. At its core, this movie is an incredibly deep exploration of faith. It's the exploration of how far people are willing to go or should go to keep their faith in something and how people who don't have faith always find holes to poke in the story. The more I think about this movie, the more I realize it really is a religious allegory. I'm not religious by any means, but I appreciate when a movie manages to capture why religion is so important to people in a way that everyone can appreciate, even if they don't pick up on it at first, and this movie absolutely nails that without feeling the slightest bit heavy-handed. In fact, I was originally going to give this film 4.5 stars because of various minor flaws throughout the story: the animals were sometimes a little too anthropomorphic for their own good, some of the ways that the animals find themselves on Pi's boat don't always add up, and there's a mystical island in this movie that just doesn't feel like it fits with the rest of the story, ESPECIALLY when we see an extreme shot of what that island looks like. However, the ending honestly fixed those flaws for me.
I actually had to watch the ending twice because I had a meeting to discuss how film lit was going so far and I intended to finish the movie before the meeting started. Long story short, I thought the meeting was a half-hour later than it was, and by the time it started, I was so close to the end of the movie that I had to finish it. I was still pretty distracted, though, so I had to watch the ending again and good Lord, is it powerful. The way it brings the entire message of the story home is so good that all of those minor quibbles I had with the film pretty much disappeared by the time Irfan Khan's Pi delivered his final zinger. I didn't think that was going to happen, but it absolutely did. I still have some minor flaws with the movie, though. There's an editing choice where the movie will often superimpose characters and/or other objects on top of a scene transition, so it always looks like they're green-screened on top of a montage or something. I don't understand why that particular choice was made, and if they just took out those superimpositions, the editing would probably have been perfect in my mind. The first half-hour also does rush a little bit in regards to developing its main character, skimming over both Pi's potential intelligence and a relationship he develops within a few scenes. To be honest, the overall story didn't suffer from that pacing, but I would have liked maybe 5 to 10 minutes more to clear up those few aspects of Pi's backstory. Finally, there's a moment where Pi throws a rescue note into the ocean that is so vague that there's no way ANYONE would be able to find him from that note. I understand he's desperate to be rescued because he's stranded in the middle of the sea, but you'd think if he was that desperate, he would have been more specific about how he got stranded and where his ship sank.
Other than those flaws, though (which don't even affect the storytelling of the movie for me), this film is phenomenal. The script feels so natural, and that might have a lot to do with Suraj Sharma's incredible performance. I felt the need to shout him out by name because this was his DEBUT performance and I personally feel he should have been nominated for an Oscar for it. He was absolutely incredible in this movie, completely captivating and absolutely authentic. Much like any survival movie like this, the entire story falls on his shoulders, and if he's not good, the entire movie crumbles beneath him. Thankfully, he is absolutely phenomenal here, and his bond with the incredibly animated tiger Richard Parker is one of the best elements of the story for me and leads to some fantastic emotional moments towards the end. My absolute favorite part, however, is the visuals. The visual effects are absolutely astounding. Sure, there are moments where you can tell an animal is CGI and moments where you can tell there's a green screen behind them, but it's never obvious enough to the point where it sucks you out of the story. It makes the ocean world around our main characters even more beautiful to look at, and my god, the "action" sequences (if you can even really call them that) are incredible. The scene where the ship sinks that kicks the plot into gear is absolutely nail-biting and keeps you gripped to your seat the entire time.
The cinematography and direction are also immaculate. There are various aerial shots that show the expanse of water surrounding Pi's boat, sometimes when the water's clear and sometimes when it's completely dark, and these shots were absolutely jaw-dropping. Heck, the opening titles alone dropped my jaw with how tranquil they were, but some of the establishing and world-building shots and moments that occur throughout this movie are just beautiful to look at. I mean, hell, there's a shot in this film where Ang Lee actually managed to put his own spin on the illustration from the cover of the original book. It's not a perfect recreation, but it's absolutely the book's cover with a little bit of Ang Lee flair thrown in there. I cannot believe that the director was so meticulous in adapting this book that he actually managed to make a shot that recreates the cover of the book not feel out of place in the story. I think that minor detail is absolutely incredible. I love how water is used not just as an important aspect of the survival of the characters, but also as an indicator to an audience of incoming danger (the clearer the water, the safer our characters are). As I said, the tense sequences are absolutely intense, and that's due to a combination of the incredible direction, the amazing visual effects, and Sharma's fantastic performance.
I also just want to add that Mychael Danna's score is absolutely incredible. This movie in general, but particularly Danna's score, really captures the Indian culture beautifully. The music, the acting, the special effects, the direction, the visuals, everything about this entire film is pretty much pitch-perfect. Some minor problems with editing and story that don't even affect my feelings about how this movie unfolded are the only things I can even remotely find wrong with it. Life of Pi is a fantastic exploration of how people experience faith and an incredibly engaging story of the bond that people can have with animals, especially when said animal is the only companion you have for miles and miles. If you have or haven't read the book and you haven't seen this movie, I strongly recommend it. I think this movie is absolutely masterful.
Letter Grade: A+
Coming up next: The Breaking Dawn movies and the third of the series of movies I was assigned for film lit: Avatar. Also, hopefully, some other movies scattered in there. We shall see.
[For those who are seeing this review after May 2, 2020, I wanted to just say this review was really sadly timed because two days after I watched this film, the legendary Irrfan Khan unfortunately passed away. Rest in peace, dude. I intend to check out some of your films soon to honor your legacy.]