Books to Movies, Movies, The 500 Film Challenge, The Good Stuff

#51: Life of Pi

I have given you two stories. Which story do you prefer?

12 March 2013



#51: Life of Pi

Directed by Ang Lee

Starring Gautam Belur (Pi, age 6), Ayush Tandon (Pi, age 13), Suraj Sharma (Pi, age 16), Irrfan Khan as the adult Pi, Tabu (Gita Patel, Pi’s mother), Adil Hussain (Santosh Patel, Pi’s father), Ayan Khan (Ravi, Pi’s older brother age 7), Mohammed Abbas Khaleeli (Ravi, age 15), Vibish Sivakumar (Ravi, age 18), Gerard Depardieu (the Cook), Po-Chieh Wang (Sailor), Rafe Spall (Writer/Yann Martel), Shravanthi Sainath (Anandi), Andrea Di Stefano (Priest)

Screenplay by David Magee

Produced by Ang Lee, Gil Netter, David Womark

I have never read the book but as I saw its title on the bestseller’s list when I was twelve, I thought it was about a man who was named after Pi, the mathematical symbol and thought it was a book about that. After a great interest in this year’s Oscar list (in which I notice all of them are about two hours long), I found myself immersed in this film’s trailer alone, wondering what the experience was to watch this, and then catch up with the book afterwards.

It is one of the greatest cinematic experiences I’ve ever enjoyed in years. The film begins as a writer played by Rafe Spall (One Day, Prometheus) visits Pi Patel after being referred to him by his uncle to tell him of the incredible story of his life. At this point, Pi is played by Irrfan Khan (New York, I Love You) as an adult. He looks at the writer with doubt but proceeds with telling him the story of his youth.

Piscine Molitor Patel was apparently named after a famous French swimming pool in which his uncle considers to be the cleanliest swimming pool he’s ever been on. But as he grows up in the French district of India, he changes his name to “Pi” after being teased as “Pissing Pi” and automatically becomes a school legend after he explains to everyone in school how his name is related to the mathematical symbol and jots down the entire meaning of the symbol in its numerical order during his first day in Math Class.

His family used to own a zoo, as he tells the writer his fondness for animals. One particular animal has caught his interest, a bengal tiger named Richard Parker. As he attempts to see the tiger eye to eye by handing him a piece of meat with his bare hands, his father runs in angrily telling him that animals are unreasonable beings. “They have no soul and they do not think like we do.” By proving his point, his father an ever reasonable man brings in a goat, ties it on Richard Parker’s cage and within a few minutes Pi and his brother along with their mother witness the tiger devouring goat. He was born a Hindu, but he is also a Catholic and a Muslim. He explains to the writer that “You never know your God until you are introduced to Him.” And that all he’s ever really wanted to do was to love God and to understand him in all three. His faith in God plays a vital role in the story.

Soon his father decides the family must move to Canada since the family business can no longer flourish in India, they set off for Winnipeg, Canada on the ship called Tzimtzum, a Japanese Freight ship along with all their owned animals. The only noted scene where Gerard Depardieu appears is when the family gets their meal. Since they are all vegetarians, Pi’s mother requests to get a vegetarian meal but the cook (Depardieu) continuously prepares rice/porridge, sausages, with gravy and garnish on top. Pi’s father takes rage on the cook insisting that they be given proper food. But the cook reminds them that he cooks for sailors, not zoo owners. Thus the entire family feed on rice and gravy on top. Later on while the whole family is asleep, Pi wakes up to a noise he hears from outside. He tries to awaken his brother but he refuses to wake up. He steps out of their cabin and sees that there is a storm outside. Several of their animals are released, two Toucans and a struggling zebra among others. He admires the storm, watching the marvelous waves struck against each other. Up until he witnesses one of the crew members fall into the ocean and half of the ship being devoured completely by the ocean. His instincts tell him to rescue his family, in which he attempts to do. He goes back into the cabin and we are sent into a 3D masterpiece of including the usual setting when one gets into the water, where all sound is mute and desolate. I admired this part, because although I didn’t see this on 3D, I felt Pi’s panic when he jumped into the water to attempt to rescue his family. Though he searched deep into the ship, he was not able to find them. He swims back out, still in search of his family, but he is immediately taken by a crew member to take the lifeboat. A panicked Zebra jumps into the Lifeboat and the cook and Pi falls into the water.  But Pi swims back up and gets into the lifeboat.

After the storm he finds himself in the lifeboat with an injured zebra, and riding on a net filled with bananas is an orangutan they named Orange Juice. Pi asks Orange Juice where her baby is but the orangutan just gives him a smug. Out of the blue a spotted hyena emerges from beneath the lifeboat’s tarp and taunts Pi. Pi swings the boar at the hyena but it spots the injured Zebra. With all the occupants of the lifeboat starving from seasickness, the hyena attacks the Zebra and then later on attacks Orange Juice which immediately rages Pi. Suddenly the tiger Richard Parker emerges from the tarp and attacks the hyena. Pi immediately thinks he might be next and so he swings the boar at the tiger. Richard Parker takes his swing at Pi and throws him off the boat. The next few scenes I won’t reveal but all I can say is that the only animal left is the tiger.

He adopts several survival plans, attempts to outwit Richard Parker but fails, and oftentimes succeeds. A scene in which they finally share the boat is remarkable, both cinematic and story-wise.

Richard Parker


I have found myself asking if it is possible for a man and an animal to communicate in this way. The relationship between two survivors are evident: they have to stick with each other so they can both survive. When Pi attempts to steal the boat from Richard Parker after hunting for fishes, he suddenly finds himself caught in a situation on whether to trust his instincts or to stick with his conscience. This animal did somehow save his life earlier. And so they both stick with each other, even after discovering a floating island that literally gives meaning to the term Virgin Island. On their 227th day of being shipwrecked, they land in Mexico where they both part ways, almost half dead.


But what Pi couldn’t understand, and even us the audience could not understand at this final moment between the two is when Richard Parker walks, away from the boat, without even looking back at Pi, but stops before he jumps into the jungle. He stops for a moment, and you would expect him to look back, but he doesn’t. Pi tells the writer how devastated he is when Richard Parker just left him there by the shore. When he is rescued by the villagers, he cries out loud, not because of hunger, but because of the pain this tiger has left him.

Yet another heartbreaking part of this story is added, when Japanese investigators visit him in the hospital for the ship’s insurance. Since he is the only living survivor of the ship, he is asked of how the ship sank and how he survived. But as he tells them of the story which includes the animals, his family sleeping in their cabins, lost away into the depths of the sea, none of them believes this. And so, Pi makes up a story, a less fantastic account of sharing the lifeboat with his mother, a Buddhist sailor with a broken leg, and the cook. The cook kills the sailor in order to eat him and use him as bait. His mother later struggles with the cook and pushes him to a smaller raft and the cook stabs her and she falls overboard. He returns to the lifeboat and kills the cook. The writer notices the comparison between two stories: Pi’s mother is the orangutan, the cook is the hyena, the zebra was the sailor, and Richard Parker the tiger was Pi himself. Pi asks the writer which story he prefers, with doubt and cynicism one would chose the second, but the writer attempts to mask his doubt and tells Pi that he prefers the story with the tiger in it because “it is a better story”. Pi grins back at him to which he responds “And so it goes with God.” The writer asks if he doesn’t mind that he use that story, Pi tells him that the story is his, it’s up to him to do whatever with it. As the writer glances back at the insurance report and sees that they have written in their report that Pi survived with an adult Bengal Tiger for 227 days.

Suraj Sharma’s performance as the 16-17 year old Pi Patel is remarkable, especially in parts wherein he had to react with the tiger. I haven’t seen any of his works yet but his performance is astonishing, one must look forward to the part in which he weeps upon killing a fish, and although he is supposedly hungry and tired, him making up the second story while weeping in parts that needs weeping to is just impressive.

It was perhaps a good decision to adapt the film into mostly 3D effects to capture that poetic, and epic masterpiece in which most scenes had to be shot in water. I must read the book to get some facts straightened up. A must-see movie for fans of the book, for those who like Action and Adventure, and for those who plan to go back to their faith in God.


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