Saturday, April 20, 2019

Stubs - Life of Pi

Life of Pi (2012) Starring: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Tabu Hashmi, Adil Hussain, Rafe Spall, Gérard Depardieu; Directed by Ang Lee; Screenplay by David Magee; Based on Life of Pi by Yann Martel; Produced by Gil Netter, Ang Lee, David Womark  Run time: 127 minutes. United States/United Kingdom/ Canada/Australia/Taiwan Color Fantasy, Adventure, Drama

There are many different reasons why someone watches a movie. Many times it’s because the movie interests you, or because you want to keep up with what’s currently out. But there are times that circumstances play a part. While I had known of Life of Pi since it was released, the film got a lot of attention and was nominated for several Academy Awards, I didn’t watch it until it was what seemed like the best choice on a recent flight I was on. And I’m glad I did.

The film is based on a novel by Spanish-born Canadian writer Yann Martel, that sold over 10 million copies worldwide when it was released in 2002. In February 2003, Fox 2000 Pictures executive Elizabeth Gabler acquired the rights and hired screenwriter Dean Georgaris to adapt the book. Originally, M. Night Shyamalan was going to direct the film, best known for such films as The Sixth Sense (1999) and Unbreakable (2000), but he eventually backed out. "I was hesitant [to direct] because the book has kind of a twist ending. And I was concerned that as soon as you put my name on it, everybody would have a different experience."

In 2005, Alfonso Cuarón, who by then had directed Y Tu Mamá También (2001) and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), was approached by Fox 2000 but he chose another film, Children of Men (2006), instead. French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet was next up and shooting was scheduled for mid-2006, but he too withdrew from the project.

The project didn’t die, however, and in 2009, the studio hired Ang Lee, best known for such films as The Wedding Banquet (1993), Eat Drink Man Woman (1994), Sense and Sensibility (1995), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Hulk (2003), and Brokeback Mountain (2005). David Magee was hired to write the screenplay while the director went about looking for the right actors to play the lead character Pi, who is portrayed at various ages of his life.

3000 men were auditioned for the lead in the film, Pi at the ages 16/17. Suraj Sharma, a student and a newcomer to acting, won the role. Other roles were announced with Gerard Depardieu, Irrfan Khan, and Adil Hussain added to the cast.

Filming began in January 2011 with most of the production taking place in India, Taiwan, and Canada. The film was released on November 21, 2012.

The Writer (Rafe Spall) comes to see Pi because he's heard about his story.

Life of Pi tells a story within a story. The Writer (Rafe Spall), who has been writing and living in India, has met Francis Adirubasamy in a local coffee shop and told him about Pi’s story. Returning to Canada, the Writer looks up Pi and even though they have never met, Pi (Irrfan Khan) tells him his life story.

The pool in France for which Pi was named after.

He begins with his name, which is actually Piscine Molitor Patel. He is named after a swimming pool in France. In school, bullies shorten his name to Pissing Patel. In order to contradict that, Piscine (Ayush Tandon) takes the initiative to change his nickname to Pi.

Raised as a Hindu, Pi discovers Christianity based on a dare from his older brother, Ravi. When he goes in to drink the holy water in a church, Pi is confronted by the Priest (Andrea Di Stefano) who brings him a glass of water and introduces him to Christ. Pi also comes across a mosque and is introduced to Islam. He tries to follow the tenets of all three religions. His mother, Gita (Tabu), has no problem with his discoveries but his father Santosh (Adil Hussain), is more secular and disapproves.

Pi is fascinated with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

The family runs a zoo and Pi takes an interest in one of the animals, a tiger called Richard Parker. Adult Pi relates that the man who found the tiger was actually named Richard Parker and called the tiger Thirsty, but somehow the paperwork got confused and the names were flipped. In an effort to get close, Pi disobeys his father and tries to feed the tiger himself. Ravi gets their father and he stops Pi in the nick of time. To demonstrate the tiger’s dangerousness, Santosh has a lamb fed to the tiger in front of Pi.

When Pi (Suraj Sharma) is 16, the family decides to leave India and head to Canada. While they don’t own the zoo, they do own the animals, which they plan to sell to support the move. Pi, who has just met a girl, Anandi (Shravanthi Sainath), doesn’t want to go, but has no choice.

Pi (Suraj Sharma) is 16 when his family decides to move to Canada.

The family books passage on a Japanese freighter where they encounter a French Cook (Gérard Depardieu) who refuses to cook them a vegetarian meal and is actually rude to Pi’s mother. Another sailor intervenes and tries to comfort the family.

Pi goes up to the deck of the freighter when he hears the storm.

On the journey, there is a great storm and Pi goes up on deck to experience it. However, he gets more than he bargained for, as the ship flounders. He is put on a lifeboat with the Cook, who gets knocked out when a freed Zebra jumps onboard, breaking his leg in the process. The ship sinks into the Mariana Trench, taking with it his family. Pi tries to save what he thinks is a survivor, but it turns out to be Richard Parker.

The next morning, Pi finds he's not alone on the lifeboat.

In the morning, Pi wakes up on board the lifeboat with the Zebra. An orangutan, floating on a bunch of bananas, joins them. But there is also a hyena on board, hiding under the tarp that covers about half of the boat. The hyena attacks the wounded zebra and kills it. The orangutan gets into a fight with the hyena, but ends up getting killed by it. Then Richard Parker emerges from under the same tarp and kills the hyena and then retreats back.

Pi builds a secondary raft per instructions in a manual he found on the lifeboat.

Pi finds supplies on board and, by reading the pamphlet included, manages to build a secondary raft from the flotation vests. He uses this raft to escape Richard Parker. Even though killing animals is against his beliefs, Pi learns to fish in order to feed Richard as well as to survive. The effort is supplemented when a school of flying fish comes across the raft and some are trapped inside.

A school of flying fish descent on the lifeboat.

Richard Parker jumps into the ocean to fish for himself and has trouble getting back into the raft. Pi considers letting the tiger drown, but finally takes pity and lets him back into the raft. Taking the survival crackers to his own flotation device, Pi thinks he’s all set until a humpback whale ruins his plans. The whale jumps over the raft and the resultant splash capsizes Pi’s raft and all the crackers are lost overboard.

Pi manages to train the lion to allow them to be on the lifeboat together.

Pi then trains the tiger, using a whistle, to accept Pi’s presence on the main raft. Still, Pi is always aware of the tenuousness of life. Taking care of the tiger has helped Pi stay alive.

After a few weeks, the lifeboat runs aground on a floating island.

After weeks at sea, the lifeboat grounds on a floating island, whose existence is unknown to the outside world. The island is made up of interconnected trees and is inhabited by meerkats. By day it is a tropical oasis for two shipwreck survivors. Things, however, change at night as the island turns into a hostile environment. Richard Parker senses the change and retreats to the raft. Pi, who has set up a place to sleep in the trees, is surrounded by the meerkats.

Pi observes changes in the island at night.

Pi observes that the pools of water turn acidic and devour the fish inside them. When Pi discovers a human tooth in one of the flowers, he deduces that the island is carnivorous. Together, Pi and Richard Parker escape the island.

Sometime later, the raft lands on the beaches of Mexico. Pi watches helplessly while Richard Parker deserts him and heads into the jungle without so much as a glance back. Pi is rescued by local fishermen and is sad at losing contact with Richard Parker.

While recuperating in a hospital, Pi is interviewed by two Japanese insurance investigators (James Saito and Jun Naito) who want to find out what happened to the freighter. They listen to Pi’s story, but do not believe him. They ask to tell them what really happened and he tells them a different story. In this story, the animals are replaced by human survivors: his mother for the orangutan, an amiable sailor for the zebra, and the ship's brutish cook for the hyena. In this story, the cook kills the sailor and feeds on his flesh. He also kills Pi's mother after which Pi kills him with a knife and uses his remains as food and fish bait. The investigators don’t really like that story either and leave without asking Pi any more questions.

Towards the end of their interview, the Writer recognizes
the parallel in Pi's (Irrfan Khan) two stories.

The Writer recognizes the parallels between the story, even noting that Pi is the tiger. When Pi asks him which story he prefers, the Writer picks the first one. Hearing that, Pi replies, "and so it goes with God."

Pi’s wife and children arrive and Pi invites the Writer to stay for dinner. Glancing at the official report from the insurance agents, the Writer notes that they chose the first version of the story too.

I will admit that while I had my reservations about the film when it was first released, I was quite impressed, even though I was watching the film on a very small screen. Watching a movie for the first time on an airplane is not a recommended way. That said, I was very entertained by the story.

The production company was fortunate that Suraj Sharma, an untried actor, was able to carry a major motion picture. It is quite an auspicious start for the young actor. He has a very good presence on the screen and doesn’t get lost against the larger than life backdrop of the story.

Irrfan Khan plays Pi as an adult.

There is something both familiar and comforting about Irrfan Khan. He helps draw the audience into the film and lets adult Pi be confident about his rather fantastical life story.

French actor Gérard Depardieu may be the best-known actor in the cast, but his role as The Cook aboard the freighter has to be one of the most insignificant of his long and distinguished career. He certainly makes an impression, but you have to think someone of his stature and talent is somewhat wasted here.

The film employs its fair share of special effects. You might think much of it takes place out at sea but in reality, those scenes were filmed in a tank built especially for the film at an abandoned airport. Those scenes look very believable. Judging on what I’ve read, the effects should look good in 3-D, a format the film was originally released in.

I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of Ang Lee’s. Not that he’s not an accomplished director, but after making such films such as Eat Drink Man Woman, Sense and Sensibility, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, he also made Hulk, one of the worst non-Fox Fantastic Four Marvel films. However, here he seems to be the right choice to take an epic story and make it seem personal. The special effects are used to enhance rather than mask the story.

As much as I enjoyed the film on the small screen in an airline seat back, I can’t help but think how much better it would have been on a big screen. So if you haven’t seen Life of Pi, I would highly recommend it, even if the screen you have to watch it on might not be as big as you’d like.

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