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Movie Review, Post-Oscars Edition: Life Of Pi

Submitted by on March 12, 2013 – 9:00 amNo Comment

The 2013 Academy Awards are past and gone, and I had seen eight of the ten best picture nominees  and many of the year’s other notable films, so I had felt reasonably prepared. But when Life of Pi walked away the night’s biggest winner, with awards for visual effects, music, cinematography, and a somewhat surprising win for director Ang Lee, I knew I had procrastinated too long. Now, I understand the academy’s love for Pi: it’s a stunning film, not just for it’s breathtaking visuals, but for incorporating them fully into a deeply moving fable.

Life of Pi, based on the best-selling novel of the same name, is a story-within-a-story: an author sits with an Indian college professor, Pi, who now lives in Montreal, and hears the story of Pi’s miraculous survival at sea.  Pi grew up in India, experimenting with many different religions; his family owned a zoo. They decide to move to Canada, and ship out on a freighter with many of their zoo animals to sell. After a few days at sea, the ship sinks in a storm; Pi is the only survivor, and ends up spending over 200 days in a life raft with a Bengal tiger. But when Pi is finally rescued and recounts his story to representatives from the shipping company, an unnerving possibility arises.

Lee’s visual imagination is astounding. At many points in the film, his subjects seem to float in the middle of the screen; it is unclear whether they are in water, floating on top of it, whether the camera is plunging in and out of the sea, or whether we are just looking through water at them. Lee uses this basic idea to evoke a whole range of tones: playful, dreamlike, nightmarish, stark, and terrifying. He and his design team craft everything from retro Paris to the middle of the ocean with awe and fantasy.

Throughout, Lee manages to work an ultimately stark and ambiguous story into what’s basically a family film. He alludes to violence like a master; and the absence of gore and certain language never obscures the brutality of the story. This balance of harsh realities and hopefulness, adult themes and family-friendly content, produces a rare movie epic.

(Maybe next week I’ll finally see Amour. But I’m never in the mood for a movie that depressing.)

Did you see Life of Pi? What did you think?

Life of Pi is now available on DVD and OnDemand.

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