Starring Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan. Written by David Magee from the novel by Yann Martel. Directed by Ang Lee. PG. 126 min.
Though there’d been talk of adapting Life of Pi for the screen ever since Yann Martel’s novel wowed its first reader, it’s very fortunate that the task took 11 years to achieve. One reason is that it’s only recently that digital FX wizards could plausibly render the animals that share a lifeboat with our story’s hero, the sole surviving passenger of a ship that sinks while transporting his family and the former inhabitants of their zoo from India to Canada. Though real creatures were used elsewhere in the film, they could never have been employed in Life of Pi’s grisliest scenes without incurring the SPCA’s wrath.
Another major piece of good fortune is that the project—after passing through the hands of such directors as M. Night Shyamalan and Jean-Pierre Jeunet—ended up with Ang Lee, the filmmaker who was arguably most capable of equipping the tale with the necessary scale and splendour while retaining an equally vital sense of intimacy and restraint.
Played by Suraj Sharma in the scenes at sea and Irrfan Khan as the older version who narrates the tale, Pi is someone whose spiritual quest has begun well before his mettle and his faith are tested by the Bengal tiger who becomes his only companion. While there’s no lack of visual majesty to what ensues, it’s a sign of Life of Pi’s triumph that the film’s quiet moments of thoughtful serenity are just as potent as any of the tiger’s chances to bare his teeth.