Animals are beautiful, aren’t they? Precious creatures that are cute to pet and delicious to eat. Majestic, simple creatures that have such a fascinating appeal to them. Life of Pi knows its audience is inclined to care for such a variety, and does well to present so many in its opening credits. Retelling the story of his life with animals, Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan) dictates his life to a writer (Rafe Spall). From there, we go on a journey through the past. His upbringing and survival in a shipwreck with a Bengal tiger. There is a layer of beauty within Life of Pi, that asks its audience to suspend its disbelief in the face of a story that could contain and elicit such wonderful joy.
Transfixed on its visuals, Ang Lee manages to craft such wonderful, vibrant locations. A film that looks good is only as strong as its writing, which is amicable and, having suspended our disbelief before the opening credits, is a breeze. But breezy filmmaking does not open much in the way of desire. A suspension of disbelief is a big ask for an audience, and it should certainly provide something more than fantastic visuals. There are moments of tension, panic and anxiety, but they do nothing more than the usual dramas of the modern era. Where Life of Pi should come together is through its desire to tell a story of some interest. Perhaps a strong theme would help the delicate craft Lee has put into place here, because the visual style may be strong enough to survive on its own, but it doesn’t motivate any other feeling beyond understanding its impressive scale.
For all its stylish choices and a keen eye for the beauty of nature, Life of Pi is relatively empty. The grief Pi feels when he loses his family in that opening storm never feels like more of an imperative detail. It is a fact of the film and moves on relatively loosely after that. It reminds me somewhat of All is Lost, but the choice there is to make Robert Redford’s performance an adaptable one. One that audiences can shape and mould themselves through the dangers of the open sea. Life of Pi has those same dangers, but its instinctive decision to include animals on this small lifeboat is an odd one. Lee doesn’t do much with it, besides giving Pi another enemy to deal with. Suraj Sharma is strong in these scenes, manoeuvring around the lifeboat, interacting with the CGI environment around him and on the boat.
Charming enough, and with Sharma adding pockets of detail to Lee’s craft, there is a unity found within the visual stylings. Life of Pi is a story of bullying, and how finding focus and comfort in the company of isolation may be the best thing for us. We should always speak out about it, but the antics of childhood are small fry compared to the stress and tension that awaits us in the future. How recounting all the digits of Pi makes you a school legend is beyond me, doing such a thing at my secondary school would’ve been met with a succession of knocks to the head. Life of Pi is a series of stunning visual components that demonstrate the bond between human and animal, but not much more than that. There is no real depth to any of it, and if its message is “stick your hand in the tiger’s cage,” then I wish everyone the very best of luck in doing that.