|An epic tale of faith, survival and the circle of coexistence, the stunning-looking “Life of Pi” loads a lot – and a lot to think about – into its more than two hours of running time.
But in the end, it circles around to leave you wondering what, exactly, you’re supposed to think about what you’ve just seen.
Based on the 2001 novel of the same name, it’s the story of an Indian boy and what happens after a disaster at sea sets him off on an adventure in a lifeboat with a ferocious Bengal tiger.
The tale actually begins years earlier.
We meet Piscine Patel as a child, learning the unlikely, watery origins of his name, a foreshadowing his oceanic ordeal to come. Soon he shortens his name to simply “Pi,” giving him a connection to the universal mathematical constant and a symbolic link to the interconnectivity of all things.
We’re told how Pi, the son of a zookeeper, explores several religions, finding things in Hinduism, Christianity and Islam that all make sense … or at least make a good story.
His father cautions him to use his intellect. “Believing in everything at the same time,” he says, “is the same as not believing in anything at all.”
Seeking a better life, Pi’s father decides to relocate his family and their zoo to Canada. They book passage on a freighter and head across the sea.
That sets up the movie’s dramatic middle section, in which Pi and the tiger become (eventually) the sole survivors after their cargo ship sinks in a spectacular storm.
Ang Lee, the Oscar-winning director of “Brokeback Mountain,” uses special effects to create a wondrous spectrum of delights, not the least of which – by any means – is the tiger, a marvel of completely lifelike seamless computer animation married to the motion of a real animal.
The eye-popping treats also include a dazzling nighttime encounter with thousands of phosphorescent jellyfish and a breaching whale, a splattery intersection with a school of flying fish, and a stunningly imaginative dream sequence that melds the minds of Pi and the tiger with the sea and the sky.
It’s difficult to describe much more without giving away spoiler details, but I will say that things take a trippy turn toward fantasyland in the final half hour, then into a conclusion that will probably strike some viewers as profound and uplifting, and others as confounding and contradictory.
Perhaps Pi himself best sums it up in the end.
Telling his incredible story “Forrest Gump”-style throughout the movie in flashback to an interviewer who wants to turn it into a book, he offers in parting what may be the key to enjoying – and understanding – this thought-provoking, visually rapturous tale.
Prodded to explain what his amazing saga means, Pi responds with a question of his own. “Why does it have to mean anything?” he asks.
Sometimes, he implies – reaching for a cosmic connection far beyond his own experience – a good story is good enough. Especially one that looks, and sounds, as good as “Life of Pi.”