Hats off to director Ang Lee for not messing up the film version of Life of Pi, our recent Sunday Arts Section (SAS) Book Club novel.
Unlike most Hollywood directors, who have a penchant for messing up good books, Lee, for the most part, stayed true to the story, faithfully following Yann Martel’s novel and condensing it so that little that was really important was lost.
I’m a bit sorry that Ang Lee left out the scene with the ship that nearly hit Pi’s raft. In the movie, there is a ship but it remains in the distance. In the book, the ship that nearly runs over Pi was a highly symbolic scene that allows Pi to represent
just how small and unnoticeable we are in the larger scheme of life.
Still, Lee made no major changes from the book, and he certainly didn’t change anything on a whim. Life of Pi is a challenging book to read, as SAS Book Club readers have likely discovered. There are so many interpretations of the book, and readers are left with more questions than answers. Some people think all the events Pi Patel conveys in the story are true—as wild as Pi’s story is.
Others believe Pi Patel’s second story, narrated to the Japanese investigators who insist they need a more credible story about the sinking of the ship Pi was on when he his parents decided to migrate to Canada. This too Ang Lee handled well.
He allows Pi, the grown man, to relate an alternative ending from the one that Pi originally decides to sell about being on a raft with an orangutan, zebra, hyena and Bengal tiger. Lee offers no visual interpretation of Pi’s second story. This cleverly forces movie-goers to choose between the story they saw and the story they heard.
It is no coincidence that most people in Hollywood felt that Martel’s 2002 Booker Prize-winning novel could not be turned into a film. Even Martel said he never had an idea for a filmed version of his novel. Lee is said to have waited for the technology to catch up with his vision of the movie, which was filmed in 3D.
Life of Pi moves at a leisurely pace both in the novel and the movie. Except for the shipwreck, storms and a leaping animal here or there, Life of Pi offers no fast-paced plot either in novel or movie form.
When Pi narrates his story to the author who tracks him in down in Canada after hearing about the incredible story from Pi’s uncle in Pondicherry, Pi is almost dispassionate. Most movie directors would have been tempted to beef up the narration and make it overdramatic, but not Lee. He uses the low-key, understated narration to build a sense of mystery. Is Pi distant and aloof because he is hiding the real story? That’s what readers and movie-goers must decide.
Join us on the SAS Book Club Facebook page and tell us what you thought about the movie version of Life of Pi. How well do you feel Ang Lee interpreted the novel? Did the movie change your mind about the ending?