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Life of Pi

On the scenic sea — Gorgeous to look at, but ...

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Dramatically, however, Life of Pi fares less well than its visuals. Lee and screenwritier David Magee not only rely on the most trite of framing devices – author Martel interviews the adult Pi (played by Irrfan Khan) hoping to hear "a story that will make me believe in God" — but let the men's banal exchanges undo the film's spell, pulling us out of the adventure in order to deliver yet another needless bit of narration or spiritually didactic dialogue. Even my 10-year-old son complained that the intrusions ground an otherwise thrilling tale to a painful halt. 

This comes to an unfortunate head in the film's final, and somewhat condescending, third act, as the thematic underpinnings of Pi's tale are made explicit, verbalized so that even the dimmest viewer will understand the film's thesis on storytelling and faith.

Lee's high seas saga has no shortage of big ideas, using both magical realism and a Book of Job plotline to reconcile Pi's relationship to God and form a symbiotic relationship with nature's impossible beauty and profound volatility. But since it's been made clear that the boy doesn't answer to any one god, the movie allows each audience member to walk away satisfied with whatever truth best affirms their faith. 

It's a cozy, humanistic approach that, to some, seems to absolve Lee of taking sides in a world that has become dangerously divided over religion. But I see a sly flipside to Life of Pi's spiritual parable, one that implies that religious truth is irrelevant, that faith, at its foundation, is merely shaped by stories, and you simply pick the yarn you like best. Whatever his ultimate intent, one thing is clear: Ang Lee worships first and foremost at the altar of cinema.