Since I started studying cinematography watching movie takes on a whole new journey for me. Recently watched "Life of Pi"and wanted to share my thoughts with you.
****Spoiler Alert**** If you want to see the movie uninfluenced click away now.....
Life of Pi is story about a 16year old boy named Pi who survives a shipwreck only to be stranded on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
The beauty of what this film is sharing with us is that there is no one way to look at life.
Early in the film young Pi is on a discovery of understanding God. Through his life experiences he decides that there is no single path to understanding God; that all faiths hold some truth for him. This belief that Pi holds sets the imagery for what is a constant stylistic choice that Miranda would use to tell the story.
Miranda would frame a scene to let the viewer be immersed into the story. Yes, I know that this was filmed in immersion 3D, but that is not the type of immersion I am talking about. Compositionally, Miranda’s works went far beyond the aid of a technical tool. I did not see the film in 3D myself but I would bet the viewer quickly no longer noticed the 3D effect and was moved into a deeper viewing experience.
Reflection and color would be used as if to show the body, mind and soul of Pi’s time being stuck out on the ocean.
Miranda would show extreme wide shots of water with the sky reflecting into it. This would let the viewer question what they are seeing what is actually real. Does such beauty exist? Is this a dream that Pi is experiencing? Is it a heavenly reflection of what is to come for Pi in the afterlife? These wide shots with saturated colored skies reflecting off the water and the stillness of Pi’s isolation gave the viewer time to sit with the mysteries of what’s going on.
In the early part of the movie, Pi is introduced to the tiger back in his home land of India. Pi is most likely 10 or 11 years old and wants to get a closer look at the tiger, who is in a cage at this time. Young Pi holds a piece of raw meat in his hand to invite the tiger to eat out of his hand. Pi’s father quickly comes to the aid of young Pi stopping his son from most likely having his hand bitten off by the tiger. Pi argues with his father telling him that the tiger would not hurt him, that Pi could see it in his eyes. Pi’s father sharply explains that what he saw in the tiger’s eyes was not acceptance of him but of Pi seeing his own emotion reflected back at him through the tiger’s eyes. This scene sets the outline for how the movie will play out both in narrative and in imagery.
A good example of how reflection and color are blended to enhance the narrative is when the tiger is staring into the water. This shot, a better word is the photograph, shows the current of the water, the stars shimmering in the sky all framed inside the eyes of the tiger. This tight close up shot fills the entire screen inviting the viewer into the perception of what the tiger must being feeling. In times of vast suffering there is deep beauty.
Again Miranda shows how within a single frame we can ask the question is the body physically seeing this? Is it a hallucination of the mind from being lost at sea for so long? Is it a view into the afterlife? We are then shown that the tiger is viewing fish in the sea and then a vision of the sunken ship in which Pi survived drowning. Then the reflection comes back to the surface showing that it is, in fact, Pi seeing these things. This begs the question, and ultimately leaves the answer up to the viewer at the end of the movie, is Pi really the tiger, seeing his survival in the manifestation of a beast’s character that is necessary to survive such a plight?
When researching about Life of Pi” the phrase “unfilmable novel” kept being repeated. I feel if not for the talent of Claudio Miranda’s ability to balance the imagery and narrative all within a single frame, this movie would have forever been considered “unfilmable”.
Ang Lee’s talents should not go unspoken as the director. The director’s vision is to balance the elements of nature while blending in the fantastical colors and reflection giving the movie a spectacular original element that is very much worth your time to enjoy this viewing experience.
There is a specific sequence that shows the surrealist composition of “Is it real or a dream” that the film is built upon. Pi is afloat on a handmade lifeboat built from spare parts from the main boat. Pi spends much of his time on this makeshift boat as to protect himself from becoming the tiger’s dinner. The scene is set at night. The sky is filled with stars and the sea filled with a bioluminescent glow given off by the fish in the ocean. The scene is magical. Reflection, colors and motions all blend to show the visual artistry that is what makes this film “filmable”.