Life of Pi Review

poster from the Fox 2000 Pictures film Life of Pi

I had a hard time deciding what to see this week. I waffled between the probably terrible movie that could make for a funny review (Red Dawn) and the possibly good movie that I might not have much of an opinion on (Life of Pi). In the end I left it up to my movie buddy Angella, who picked Life of Pi because she had read the book and liked it (am I the only one who didn’t read that book?) It had a unique premise:

A young man struggles to survive after a shipwreck leaves him stranded in a lifeboat with a wild tiger.

Coupled with the James Cameron invented Avatar 3D CGI, this seemed like an ideal movie: original AND cool looking. Now that I’ve seen it, I can tell you that it is original and it is fantastic looking, but it’s just not as transcendentally moving as everyone (including the movie itself) bills it to be.

The movie uses a framing device of a struggling writer (Rafe Spall) coming to see the older version of the main character – Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan) because he’s been told that Pi’s story “will make him believe in God.” At least the first half hour of the movie tells of young Pi (Ayush Tandon), who is the son of a well-off zoo owner and a botanist, and his adventures with Hindu, Christianity, and Islam in his original hometown of Pondicherry, India.

Rafe Spall and Irrfan Kahn from the Fox 2000 Pictures film Life of Pi

WRITER: So when the hell do we get to the part with the tiger??
PI: Hold your frigging horses. They can’t fill all 127 minutes with ‘stranded in a lifeboat’ stuff.

Eventually Pi does get round to telling the good part – the part where his teenage self (Suraj Sharma) is on a voyage across the Pacific from India to Montreal on a Japanese freighter full of his parents’ zoo animals when a humungous storm sinks their ship and leaves him (surprise!) stranded in a lifeboat with the zoo’s tiger, who has the improbable name of Richard Parker (and is played by CGI… really good CGI).

Pi peeks inside the life boat from the Fox 2000 Pictures film Life of Pi

Hmm, I wonder if there are any supplies on this boat…

Richard Parker in the lifeboat from the Fox 2000 Pictures film Life of Pi


I complain a lot about movies not being realistic enough, but I also think there’s such a thing as too much realism. Pi’s relationship with Richard Parker is ultra realistic – Pi grows to love Richard Parker, but Richard Parker would sooner bite Pi’s face off than make friends. In fact, Pi spends most of the movie floating in a makeshift buoy made out of paddles and lifejackets because Richard Parker won’t even let him in the boat. In the same situation, I’d probably have been eaten trying to make friends.

Pi and Richard Parker stake out their territory from the Fox 2000 Pictures film Life of Pi

ME: Kitty! Hey kitty meow meow!
TIGER: F*** off, snackie-lunch.

I hadn’t read the book but for some reason I was expecting a greater degree of buddy buddyness to arise from their being thrown together like that. But alas, Life of Pi is not a Disney movie, so the affection is pretty one-sided.

Richard Parker cuddles from the Fox 2000 Pictures film Life of Pi

I demand more tiger cuddles!!

The movie is also really authentic regarding the kinds of things you might see when you’re all alone in the middle of the Pacific, even if they do look rather fantastical. Bioluminescent jellyfish, sharks, whales, flying fish, storms, these are all things that are really out there.

Pi and the glowing jellyfish from the Fox 2000 Pictures film Life of Pi

Don’t touch them!! They might be deadly box jellyfish or something!

But all that authenticity kind of shoots the movie in the foot, because later on when Pi and Richard encounter a floating, semi-sentient island full of meerkats, it’s really jarring – like suddenly switching from a nature documentary to Gulliver’s Travels. You half expect the meerkats to start talking to Pi about their meerkat philosophies and their meerkat hopes and dreams and implying that they’re some sort of ironic metaphor for human society.

meerkats on the floating island from the Fox 2000 Pictures film Life of Pi

We heard Meerkat Manor was doing a Meerkat American Idol and we came to audition.

Maybe that was the part that was supposed to make me believe in God because I didn’t see anything particularly transcendental in this movie. In fact, I found it a little disappointing that the movie was so focused on religion and divinity – they didn’t mention that in the trailers. If they had, I probably would have gone to Red Dawn instead.

Pi yelling at God from the Fox 2000 Pictures film Life of Pi

PI: God, give me a sign!
GOD: Now where’s the fun in that?

I dunno, maybe I’ve just been an atheist too long to appreciate this movie. Pi spends a lot of time talking about God before and after the lifeboat thing and at one point starts yelling at God during a big storm, but other than that there’s nothing really divine about this movie, other than the quality of the special effects.

Pi on the ocean that looks like glass from the Fox 2000 Pictures film Life of Pi

I mean, some of it is just so pretty I’d like to hang it on my wall.

In the end, I wasn’t sure I liked Life of Pi. Sure the effects were good and the story was original and I maybe even teared up a little at the end, but what was the point of it? If there was a theme or a message, I missed it. And for that reason, while will say that you should go see Life of Pi because it’s entertaining and different, neither would I rate it among the best movies I’ve seen this year. I won’t be rushing out to read the book either. But that’s just me.

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