Pi worships Gods, drawing from Hinduism, Christianity and Islam for his patchwork spirituality. The Indian lad lives with his family, the owners of a zoo. When they decide to take the zoo animals and move from southern India to Canada, they travel by ship. A disaster ensues and Pi ends up lost at sea in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
Directed by Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain) from a screenplay by David Magee (Finding Neverland) based on Yann Martell's 2001 novel (which sold 7 million copies), Life of Pi manages to feel spine-tinglingly real while establishing and maintaining a sense of the fantastic. Richard Parker is no Disney tiger - there isn't a hint of anthropomorphizing here - this cat will tear you up and/or eat you.
Yet Pi (played for most of the film by 17-year-old Suraj Sharma, with Ayush Tandon as young Pi and Irrfan Khan as adult Pi, who apparently underwent some form of radical face reshaping) engineers a way for the two to coexist on the 27 foot raft.
Life of Pi is a ripping good yarn. Adults bringing young children should be aware of a scene at the beginning of the raft segment that involves animal carnage. From beginning to end, the film is one of a kind. The early scenes in India are idyllic, the main story on the lifeboat is harrowing, thrilling and wondrous (particularly a visit to an island that appears to be a living entity), and the closing sequence, where adult Pi discusses his story, is sobering and thought-provoking. Which reality is best - the one you're presented with or one of your own design?