Life of Pi film adaptation does surprising justice to novel

[pullquote1 quotes=”true” align=”center”]Tear-jerking production successfully illustrates profound discussions[/pullquote1]

BY LAUREN BEJZAK ’13
Editor-in-Chief

Succinctly put, Life of Pi captures the essence of its source material and provides more to chew on than movie popcorn.

When the first trailer aired, a universal, albeit subtle, upset rumbled through the country. Nothing, not even Ang Lee’s moniker appearing on screen, could soothe the rapidly beating hearts of a legion of fans before the end of the teaser.

The high school summer reading favorite and best seller Life of Pi (2001) would be arriving at a movie theater near you this November. In other words, Lee had signed on to make the un-makeable movie: a young boy surviving in the middle of the ocean in a lifeboat with only his wits and a Bengal tiger.

The book was fantastic. The first 100 pages were abhorred by every woeful high-school sophomore expecting high-seas adventures and instead met by pages and pages about religion and swimming pools. The next 200 pages were read fervently, for they displayed a grand tale of fantasy, all stemming from the mind of protagonist Pi Patel.

That was the biggest problem for a potential adaptation — most of the interesting and thought-provoking parts of the book occur in Pi’s inner monologue, not in an exciting action sequence that could be filmed in stunning 3D.

So gasp did the masses in front of their TV screens, hoping against hope this emotional and intense book would not be ruined by the silver screen and bad CGI animation (at least we hoped they didn’t actually put a tiger in a lifeboat with a young Indian fellow; that would be poor form). And the first image of the tiger was not high-quality animation. Hopes were not high, but all that could be done was to remember Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon director Ang Lee’s incredible talents and lay in wait, perhaps dusting off the book jacket and perusing the familiar words from time to time.

My issues with the film were few, but those new to the story did not necessarily feel the same way. Obviously with a “certified fresh” rating of 88 percent from Rotten Tomatoes, Life of Pi succeeded on at least a few fundamental levels. Where newcomers will feel uncertain are the underlying religious themes brought up more than necessary and the overarching message of the story.

If I had not been prepared with a prior knowledge of Yann Martel’s masterful story, it would be very easy to become overwhelmed and feel the story was spread a little thin. For fans such as me, the film struck the almost exactly perfect balance of content and meaning; almost every scene I could remember clearly was included and each was sure to reinforce the essence of Martel’s words. In fact, I wish (in a different world where each Harry Potter film was five hours long) it was able to include more.

The man cast as the writer interviewing Pi Patel was an unequivocal d-bag. Their interactions came off lightly as “white man is condescending about ethnic minority’s incredible story,” but luckily he occupies about three minutes of the total run time. I also felt some of the dialogue was heavy-handed, but speaking afterwards to a few people who had not read the book, I found they did not feel similarly.

As it is, I, a normally steadfast movie viewer, cried thrice throughout the movie. Once in a particularly moving film is usually it, so three times is a lot. I wish, for Pi’s sake, it was harder to spoil the first big tearjerker of the film; everyone knows even from the back of the book that his family dies in a shipwreck and he is stranded in the ocean. This was one of the moments that allowed me to express surprise at the PG rating; in fact, there were a fair amount of scenes peppered throughout that were a little emotionally intense for me — I could not imagine a weepier viewer or perhaps a child being able to last through some of them. Think devastating shipwreck, animal-on-animal violence, and the most upsetting scene of closure I’ve experienced in a long while. Of course, none of the violence is onscreen, but that doesn’t do much to dull the implications of each event.

There are stunning visuals, so beautiful I cursed the bastards who decided to film Skyfall in IMAX but not Pi. Incredible landscapes, some predictably of the sea during a wide array of weather patterns and opacities, but also of the Patel family’s zoo in Pondicherry, allow viewers to join Pi in his adventures on a nearly tangible level. The beauty, the loneliness, or the peace drips from the screen. I would posit it is as much an emotional masterpiece as it is a visual one. Flying fish, dolphins, whales, jellyfish, meerkats, and all manners of majestic zoo animals make appearances in both flesh and impeccable CGI.

The film also does profound work in its approach to the practice of storytelling. A plot twist of sorts really draws the viewer back to appreciate the incredible potential of humanity to explore in itself both good and evil, away from the premise of a boy and his tiger on a boat. Writing this paragraph gave me chills.

Comparing the film and the book, there are of course differences. But Lee absolutely captured the essence of Martel’s work; I felt at the end of the movie exactly how I felt finally placing the book, both covers bent outwards, closed on the coffee table.

A young Indian boy’s search for closure after a terrible occurrence may or may not end happily, but his journey over the high and the low seas, to a mysterious glowing island, away from India, eventually to Canada, will take the audience on a voyage just as tortuous and soul-searching. I especially recommend Life of Pi to those who’ve already read it, even if they did not necessarily understand the true meaning. To those who haven’t read it, I would urge them to see it as well merely because of the incredible filmmaking at work and the emotional rollercoaster so unique to this tale. If nothing else, Life of Pi spans many genres and is probably the most unusual film to hit theaters this holiday season.

[three_fourth]A young Indian boy’s search for closure after a terrible occurrence may or may not end happily, but his journey over the high and the low seas, to a mysterious glowing island, away from India, eventually to Canada, will take the audience on a voyage just as tortuous and soul-searching. I especially recommend Life of Pi to those who’ve already read it, even if they did not necessarily understand the true meaning. To those who haven’t read it, I would urge them to see it as well merely because of the incredible filmmaking at work and the emotional rollercoaster so unique to this tale. If nothing else, Life of Pi spans many genres and is probably the most unusual film to hit theaters this holiday season.[/three_fourth]
[one_fourth_last]

Review Rating:
A-
Life of Pi lives up to the expectations of Martel’s novel.

[/one_fourth_last]

Questions? Email Lauren at lbejzak@fandm.edu.

[fblike layout=”standard” show_faces=”true” action=”recommend” font=”arial” colorscheme=”light”]
print