A few weeks ago I was discussing Life of Pi with a friend of mine. She asked me if I’d read Yann Martel’s book, and I confirmed that I had. She asked whether it was any good. “I think so,” I replied, “Though now I think about it I can’t actually remember anything that happens that isn’t in the film trailer.” I thought about it some more and came to the conclusion that I actually had no idea if I had read the book or not. I know that I bought it way back in 2001 or 2002, and I know that I had meant to read it, but whether I had actually got round to it or not was another matter. Maybe as an eleven year-old it had just gone right over my head.
So yesterday I threw on a raincoat and went to see the film. My expectations were moderate at best, as the scenes and animations from the trailer had seemed overly fantastical to me. I also doubted there was much that a shipwrecked teenager could get up to on a lifeboat that would hold my attention for an hour and a half; even if he did have a tiger for company. That is the plot incidentally – Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma), a boy travelling from India to Canada with his family and a menagerie of zoo animals, is stranded in the middle of the Pacific with an adult Bengal tiger called Richard Parker. Richard turns out to be a more interesting companion than a football with a face on it, but considerably more likely to eat you in your sleep.
So given the unlikely premise, and the fact that I have watched some truly terrible TV and films over the Christmas period, I wasn’t expecting much.
However, with only four days left to go, Life of Pi has become my new favourite film of the year.
My desire to now talk about the plot is exactly counterbalanced by my desire to avoid giving any spoilers, so I will try and steer clear of details. Equally, it’s hard to discuss themes without alluding to the ending, but I will do my best.
Pi survives, which isn’t a spoiler because the story cuts away periodically to older Pi (played excellently by Irrfan Khan) as he recounts his adventure to a young author (Rafe Spall). The story itself walks the line between fantasy and realism very well. The computer graphics are blended into live action skilfully, leading to many beautiful and surreal visual scenes. I saw the film in 2D, but I think this may be one to see in 3D if you can.
The tiger itself feels very real on screen. In some scenes it is a CGI creation, while in others they used a real tiger. I found that most of the time it is very hard to tell the difference.
The dialogue and narration is very well written, and nothing feels superfluous or without a point. All the characters, even those that have very short on-screen times, seem plausible and real. The interaction within Pi’s family seems particularly convincing.
Life of Pi is rated PG, but the scenes of death and violence and the general peril of the plot make me feel that perhaps it should have been a 12A instead. Not one for very small children.
To me the mark of a very good film is one that you can’t stop thinking about after you leave the theatre. Life of Pi is entertaining, but it is also quite a philosophical story. It’s hard to go into detail without spoilers, but it really questions the nature of truth and stories, particularly in relation to religion (a subject it addresses in style and without getting bogged down). The whole film almost feels like a parable; you get the feeling that everything that happens is trying to teach you something. That said, it isn’t all super-serious and there are many moments of humour here, even if they are often dark in nature.
I am still not sure whether I read the book or just think that I did. I have been told by someone who read it recently that the film is very faithful to the story. Some parts of the film seemed very familiar, but I never predicted outright what was about to happen. I’d rather believe that I never got round to it, than that I forgot such an emotional and thought-provoking story.
Written by William Letton
William is a Biologist who writes in his spare time. He also likes Skips and watching telly. His favourite Pokemon is Kabutops.