Seductive, elusive and vividly imaginative Neptune, with its proclivity towards unconscious exploration, blankets Ang Lee’s 3-D “Life of Pi” like a shimmering veil. The movie is as much a tribute to the watery planet as it is a revelation of Lee’s own fascination with fictive truth.
“Life of Pi,” which debuted at the New York Film Festival and is based on the popular novel by Yann Martel, wastes no time setting up the Neptunian archetype. The movie starts with a nod to Pisces, Neptune’s associated astrological sign. The young hero’s real (Saturn) name – enthusiastically championed by the boy’s aquatically gifted uncle – is Piscine Molitor Patel, after the gorgeous Parisian swimming pool. Under the tutelage of his uncle, the boy quickly gets familiar with water’s magical and visually altering realm. However, when his given name becomes the source of endless teasing by his classmates, young Piscine turns to mathematics (Saturn) to explains the derivation of his newly acquired handle, Pi.
Neptunian faith vs. Saturnine reason will become Pi’s great internal war and external adventure. The challenge is precipitated by the boy’s fanciful belief that wild animals – his parents are the owners of a zoo in India which includes a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker – have souls and are, essentially, just like humans.
When the freighter carrying the emigrating Patel family – and the animals – goes down during a ferocious storm, the now teenage Pi (Suraj Sharma) is the sole survivor. On a tiny lifeboat in the South Pacific, he’ll be forced to address his own Neptunian proclivity to merge with all creatures when his shipmate happens to be predatory Richard Parker. And he’ll need his Saturnine wits to keep him steady.
What Lee manages to convey, often in breathtaking CGI visuals, is a laundry list of Neptunian issues – chaos, reflection, inventiveness, compassion and self-sacrifice – bound up with practical Saturnine antidotes, such as survival skills, discipline, organization and order. Will Pi achieve self-mastery without losing his desire to see unity in all creation and religions? And what about the seductive nature of Neptune itself: how reliable a narrator is Pi, whose story is related by the middle-aged Pi (Irfann Khan)?
“Life of Pi,” through the older Pi’s story to the novelist (Rafe Spall) and the audience, is an invitation to “believe in God.” With transcendent Neptune as the movie’s underpinning energy, the answer, true to the planet’s game plan, swirls deep below the surface.
Rating: ♆ (Neptune)