I encountered Yann Martel’s Life of Pi with a chip on my shoulder, determined not to like it. Acontroversy whirled around it, not just because the premise was almost identical to Moacyr Scliar’s Max and the Cats, but because Martel — though freely acknowledging the inspiration — had been a total dick about it.
“Why put up with a brilliant premise ruined by a lesser writer?” Martel had said by way of explaining why he’d never read Scliar’s brilliant little book but took its idea for his own.
As an admirer of Scliar’s, I was disgusted by Martel and went into the pages of Pi looking for evidence of the lesser writer. What I found instead was a beautiful story that hooked me from the go: I loved the writing if not the writer.
And when I heard a movie was to be made of it, I was taken aback: What could this story about spirituality, about such a personal journey, render visually besides, well, a shipwrecked boy and a tiger on a boat? A story about loss — and Pi loses everything: his family, his country, his purpose — is marked by absence.
Forgive me my lack of imagination: Director Ang Lee and cinematographer Claudio Miranda have opened up this very insular story with a stunning visual palette. Indeed, it’s the best and most assured use of 3-D I’ve ever seen. There are so few of the usual attention grabbers and so many utterly breathtaking moments. The ocean itself, water, is almost a universe in itself: a peach colored mirror, a sky crowded with constellations, a tomb, a glass partition between life and death, earth and heaven. It’s a place of plenty and a black hole, a torment and cradle of divine grace.