Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” is a wonder of contradictions. It’s a movie about the magnificence and danger of the natural world in which most of that “nature” has been created inside a computer. It’s a globe-spanning, visually rhapsodic epic about a mere two characters, one human and one not. It’s a 3-D extravaganza that mostly takes place inside a 20-foot boat. The film really shouldn’t work at all. The last time a talented director tackled an “unfilmable” novel, we got Peter Jackson’s “The Lovely Bones” — as complete a train wreck as can be imagined.
But “Life of Pi” works, or at least the part that matters does — the long central section in which the young castaway, Pi (played with earnest presence by newcomer Suraj Sharma), drifts across the Pacific Ocean in a lifeboat with a tiger, whose name, as a result of bureaucratic serendipity, is Richard Parker. He is not a cuddly tiger, and for much of the story, he is very, very hungry. The film’s about nothing less than man’s smallness — and resilience — in the face of the animal appetites of existence.