After its release at the end of last year, Life of Pi made a splash worldwide. Originally, director Ang Lee did not even feel confident in his ability to transform the novel into a believable film due to its unique setting and philosophical themes. However, despite all odds, the movie succeeded with a variety of audiences and became another foreign-based film to join the ranks as a Hollywood blockbuster.
Life of Pi follows Piscine, who eventually adopts the nickname Pi, growing up on the grounds of the public zoo that his family runs in Pondicherry, India, and the plot unfolds through a series of flashbacks. When Pi’s father decides to relocate to North America, the family boards a ship along with their menagerie of zoo animals. A storm hits, and Pi becomes stranded on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
Life of Pi recently passed the $500 million mark in total box office sales. It grossed over $100 million domestically and made up the rest in foreign markets, raking in about $90 million in China alone. Furthermore, it received 11 Academy Award nominations, second only to Lincoln, which received 12. Its nominations included Best Picture, Best Direction, Adapted Screenplay, Production Design, Cinematography, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Original Score, Original Song, Film Editing and Visual Effects.
The movie’s wild success led many to compare it to the 2008 winner for Best Picture, Slumdog Millionaire. Although Slumdog Millionaire takes place in the streets of India and Life of Pi takes place in the middle of the ocean, the films possess similar traits. A young Indian boy acts as a protagonist for both, and they both experience flashbacks which dictate the progression of the plot. The struggles of Jamal in Slumdog Millionaire to find purpose in his life amongst debilitating poverty and violence give audiences a thoughtful attitude similar to the effect of Pi’s philosophical musings. Many are wondering if Life of Pi will mimic Slumdog’s success in the Academy Awards this year.
Life of Pi also reflects an acceptance by Hollywood of films with foreign flavors. Although the movie explores the story with an American perspective, it has international appeal and does not take the same approach as traditional Hollywood blockbusters. The movie seems to be a step toward a broader worldview in the film industry, but, obviously, the lack of many successful films of this nature proves that this ideology in filmmaking is far from mainstream. Life of Pi has been described as a one-of-a-kind production, breaking the Hollywood formula for success and stepping outside of solely American tastes. The consistent domestic success and elevated international box office numbers for the movie show that the world market is willing and ready to accept movies with global culture, and hopefully more movies like Life of Pi will come to the big screen in the future.