Edelstein on the ravishingly strange "Life of Pi"

(CBS News) A new film tests the limits of the relationship between man and beast. David Edelstein has a review:

A lifeboat drifts in the South Pacific. It carries a 17-year-old boy and a man-eating Bengal tiger, and that's all.

It could be the ultimate mis-matched buddy comedy. But director Ang Lee's "Life of Pi" is ravishingly strange, mysterious and sad.

The central section is a flashback, a tale told by a middle-aged man named Pi about his younger self and the hundreds of days on the sea after a shipwreck that killed his family and most of the animals en route from India to zoos in North America. It's a story that will, we're promised, make us believe in God. But do we believe in Pi?

I won't reveal any secrets. But the look of the scenes on that lifeboat tells you much. It isn't real, but it isn't fake. It's in-between, transcendentally in-between, in a realm in which the colors glow a little more brightly and the sea is a mirror in which clouds above mingle with fish below.

It's in 3-D in some theaters, and I don't care if you're sick of the surcharge and it gives you headaches, see it like that, and be drawn into its unique reality.

That tiger, because of a bureaucratic mix-up, has the human name "Richard Parker," but it isn't anthropomorphosized. However much it learns to tolerate Pi, it's an animal, awesome and deadly.

As in the book by Yann Martel, the teenage Pi longs for a sign from God - any god, Christian, Hindu, Muslim - but the true higher power of "Life of Pi" is abstract. It's storytelling. Something soul-killing has taken place on that sea, and without sentimentality or making the tiger cute and human-ish, Pi transforms it into something he - and we - can live with.

The film is splendid.

Probably you want to know about the computer-generated effects - the CGI tiger and so forth. Don't look at me. I got this book in the mail, "The Making of 'Life of Pi.'" Cool, huh? You take it. I'm sure there are many behind-the-scenes videos online. But here's the thing: I DON'T CARE!

Once upon a time, people could say, "Wow!" and wonder, "How'd they do that?" and leave it there. Now, "How'd they do that" is a cottage industry.

I'm going to leave it at "Wow!"

"Life of Pi" speaks to MY religion: A faith in the transformative power of storytelling - and the magic of movies.

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