We Sold a Zoo

Life of Pi is spectacular even for people jaded by spectacle, and it might even be meaningful to people jaded by pop spirituality.

I went into Life of Pi believing I knew exactly what I was getting into: an overlong parable, aimed at the type of person who labels himself “spiritual” (since I’d read the book synopsis), with at least a few scenes with spectacular visuals (since I’d seen the trailers). Essentially, the 3D cinematic equivalent of a “Coexist” bumper sticker.

In terms of visuals, it definitely did not disappoint. It’s easily one of the most visually beautiful movies I’ve ever seen, and the scenes in the trailers aren’t even the best parts. It’s also the first movie I’ve seen that truly used 3D effectively; I’d go so far as to say that seeing it in 3D is essential to getting the most out of it.

But I’d been expecting that; the promise of spectacular imagery from the trailers and from reviews like this one in The A.V. Club is the only reason I went to see the movie in the first place. What I hadn’t been expecting was how entertaining the movie is. Throughout, there are movements of comedy, savagery, the expected heartbreak, and occasionally, genuine surprise. I never read the book, but over the years I’ve seen so many synopses and reviews that I thought I knew exactly what to expect from the story, and it still took unexpected tangents.

It seemed completely universal as well; other people in the theater were gasping, crying out, and laughing at all the right places. The man sitting next to me said “Wow!” at least three times. It was actually a pleasant reminder of the only remaining advantage to going to the theater, that engagement with the audience around you.

The movie does seem to gradually run out of steam as it reaches the end. Part of it is because there’s only so much you can do cinematically with your main characters lost at sea. Mostly, though, it’s that the movie has to transition from wonder and spectacle to delivering a message and making the theme explicit.

As for that theme? I’m not sure I understand it completely, assuming there’s even something deeper to understand than what’s on the surface. But the movie’s never preachy or didactic, which was another surprise. It’s an all-inclusive parable of how we understand the universe and our place in it, and how we find God. It’s even more inclusive than universalism, since it accounts for atheism as well.

As the movie ended, I didn’t feel as if I’d been taught a valuable lesson, or had my faith re-affirmed, or found new insight to mull over and incorporate into my own beliefs. More than anything else, I felt as if all the lines dividing people had been taken away for a couple of hours, and we were all shown that we’re all part of something much bigger.