A boy and his tiger make for a heartwarming coming of age tale in “Life of Pi”

With a title like “Life of Pi,” you might think that nothing spectacular could come from such a film. It sounds more like a cheaply made Bollywood flick than a rousing adventure spectacle. But don’t let the title deceive you. “Life of Pi” is an absolutely breathtaking film that speaks of faith, courage and the triumph of the human spirit.

The story follows Piscine “Pi” Patel as an adult (Irrfan Khan) as he relates his childhood experiences to a writer (Rafe Spall). Growing up in India, Pi’s father owned a zoo, including a fearsome tiger jokingly named Richard Parker. As a teenager, his family decided to leave India for Canada, and booked passage on a Japanese freighter along with their animals. When a storm capsizes the ship, Pi is forced to survive on a lifeboat along with Richard Parker, as the two learn to coexist out at sea.

At heart the film is a ripping survival story, showing one boy’s drive to survive when everything else has been taken from him. While the film largely succeeds by focusing on the survival aspects of the story, the real charm comes from teenage Pi (Suraj Sharma) developing a heartwarming relationship with Richard Parker.

Parker himself is a magnificent creation, gloriously brought to life through modern Computer Generated Imagery. He looks and moves like a real tiger, and there’s so much personality conveyed in his body language that he feels like a fully realized creature.

Pi was raised as a child to understand the ferocity of animals, but as the film progresses he develops a working partnership with the tiger for survival. None of this would have been possible if not for the life-like rendering of Parker or Sharma’s raw emotion as the teenage Pi. The two have an intimate chemistry together that gives the film’s middle act true dramatic depth.

But “Life of Pi” isn’t just content to deliver an engaging survival story or a film about a boy and his tiger. It’s also a visual masterpiece, with awe-inspiring scenes including a lush island full of meerkats and a whale breaching amid a bioluminescent sea. The film is truly a feast for the eyes, and at no point will you want to pull away from the gorgeous visuals seen on screen. These visuals are a shining example of how a movie uses special effects to enhance the story, instead of dominating it.

Not only does the story itself deal with survival themes, but it also hinges greatly on the idea of faith. Pi grew up embracing multiple religions, all in an attempt to get close to God. His belief is tested while at sea, and so the entire story becomes just as much a story of affirmed faith as it is about survival.

With heartwarming performances, astounding visuals and deep themes about keeping faith amid times of crisis, “Life of Pi” is a glorious cinematic achievement. The film is entertainment at its finest, and a true wonder to behold.

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