If you’ve been a finicky moviegoer this year, wondering when the year’s crowning jewel and apex of creative achievement on celluloid is going to show up after months of mostly ho-hum middling entertainers, well, it’s here. Ang Lee’s Life of Pi is easily one of the best movies of the year (if not the best) and will surely find billions of lovers at movie screens across the world who wish to be transported to another world on an adventure like no other. This is, quite simply, the reason we go the movies: not merely to escape, but to escape to a world where we can be inspired, aggrandized, and have our best sense of self reinforced.
Life of Pi is, if nothing else, a visual masterpiece. It is a phantasmagoria of such breathtaking visual audacity and sensory distillation that the only way to accurately describe it is to see it yourself. The film critic whose writing you are reading can pile any and every superlative known to the English language upon the film and it will still fall short. This is a movie that has been so brilliantly imagined, conceived, and executed that to even call it a “movie” is a bit of a misnomer. It is, instead, a reflection of Life itself, teeming with the grand elixir of hope, longing, and death. The fact that it is produced by James Cameron and directed by Ang Lee should do nothing but excite you: the master of visual spectacle and the guardian of some of cinema’s most touching human stories (Sense and Sensibility, Brokeback Mountain) make a formidable and indomitable team.
The story begins in India where a young boy who is nicknamed Pi (as in Piscene, but really the infinite number of mathematics that we know as 3.14) finds himself on a boat with the animals from his family zoo which is in financial tatters. They are being sent away to Canada in the hope that some of the animals may find new life and admirers in a new land, and possibly be considered the treasures that they really are. The journey begins with Pi, a giraffe, an orangutan, and a tiger. After a terrible storm in the Pacific, only Pi and the tiger are left. Indeed, most of the movie is about how Pi manages to fulfill his journey with a wild tiger seated just feet away. And lest you think that this is a cuddly movie about a boy and his favorite pet, guess again: this tiger is as wild and ferocious and menacing as the seas that threaten to destroy them both. This is not the story of Pi and Simba; this the story of Pi and Death.
The second half o the film demonstrates a love for the Earth and all of its elements that will obviously strike many as a blatant bit of environmental propaganda. I say let it be so, and be glad that it is thus, for the movie also shows us how Man is but an element in the matrix of Earthly Life, and not its Master, as he is so wont to believe of himself. The story is, at its core, a demand that humanity humble itself in the face of Nature, and that the insular modern world of cities, technology, and satellite highways is but an illusion that the Earth tolerates . . . for now.
The must-see movie of 2012.