Ang Lee’s new film, “Life of Pi,” has some things in common with his Oscar-winning “Brokeback Mountain.” Both focus on two distinctive characters who bond with each other while they are isolated from the rest of the world.
Aside from these similarities, “Life of Pi” is different from anything else Lee has done so far.
Based on the novel by Yann Martel, the movie is about a young man who survives a shipwreck and is stranded in a lifeboat at sea — with a Bengal tiger.
Lee spent a year mapping out the lifeboat sequences before funding was even secured for the project, which had baffled many filmmakers before him.
“It was difficult for me,” says Lee, who visited San Francisco to promote the movie. “I'm dramatically trained. I’m not a visual artist. I usually don't even do storyboards. I rehearse the scene and decide how to go about it to portray the feeling and conflict. But with this one I had to, because it was so unfathomable.”
Yet Lee conjured up some of the year's most dazzling 3-D sequences, particularly of the ocean’s monumental movements.
The Taiwanese-born filmmaker, who was educated in the United States, shot the movie's entire middle section using a tank.
“It's a bad idea to go out to the ocean,” he says. “You have no control. That's why all the water movies are way overbudget. Still, just a little amount of water is so difficult. You feel so helpless.”
These crucial sequences explore relationships between man and beast, and with the universe.
Before the shipwreck, the main character, Pi (Suraj Sharma) is shown embracing various religions. But in the lifeboat, he finds his situation has little to do with religion; it involves something more spiritual and primal.
Then there’s the question of whether the tiger — known as "Richard Parker" because of a paperwork mistake – has a soul and is capable of bonding with a human.
At one point, a character explains that animals have no souls. When humans look into the eyes of animals, they see only themselves reflected back. During his adventure, Pi begins to believe the opposite.
“We have that need to reach out," Lee explains. "It's a paradox. That's how I felt about this whole thing. We don't know. If we did, there wouldn't be such a movie.”