Yann Martel’s book is one of the best contemplations on faith in the era of post-nuclear rationalism. It hits the heart of what religion is, not doctrine, not tradition, but what it actually means to believe, God or anything, with the unwaverable reason(able doubt) always lingering behind the reader.
In a way, Cinema, especially that of Hollywood, is a medium of reason. Its origin coincides with the jubliant advent of technology, its advancement saw the rise of reason-based miracles and atrocities. Its grammar (in Hollywood form) follows a strong causal relation that is aimed at making sure the visual image–a far more instantly and readily recognizable form of information transer that is almost unanimously associated with the idea of truth than its ancestor, text and language–comes to create a coherent story that is, in the words of David Bordwell, “excessively obvious.”
What is most impressive about Lee’s adaptation then is understanding the very idea of exploring and expressing something so intensely spiritual in the age of ratonalism into a medium that is perhaps one of the most crowning examples of that age’s philosophy. Lee’s visuals are sufficiently miraculous, serene and catastophic, bewildering and coherent. Lee captures the essence of Martel’s book in only way that cinematic grammar can achieve, and that in itself is an exciting achevement. The film is rich with so many visual symbolism that is not only carefully placed (look at the picture above, a perfect use of CGI to visually symbolise heaven), but coordinated with other symbols.
But it’s not just the visual spectacle; the storyteling, which is done through editing and script (and Irrfan Khan’s wonderful voice) is one of the best in recent memory. Too many times has cinephile community regarded the trend of social realism as the ideal method of mature storytelling in recent auteurist cinema, but here, a film that quetions the very notion of realism in first place, the storybook-like storytelling shines to achieve every goal it wishes to master.
I still cannot figure out the very last shot: why does Lee juxtaposes Pi’s face on the right and sea on the left, Richard Parker’s back replacing the sea, then fade Pi’s face away while the jungle takes over? What is the meaning of the gradual desaturation of the jungle shot? Is trying to relate all these visual symbolism into something that had happened–or about religion–what the film wants the audience to do in first place? Or should our questions and exploratons lie elsewhere?
It is a film, like that of Martel’s book, that is at one hand coherently closed while on the other endlessly open. To have made a film that captures that essence of the source material while making it even more approachable without any narrative or symbolic sacrifice, is indeed a miraculous achievement.