Having read The Life of Pi by Yann Martel, in my high school AP english class, I was weary of a movie adaptation from the beginning. Call me cynical but every book I really loved seems to be drastically different when adapted for the big screen. (Yes, I can admit that not all adaptation are bad they are just different.) I have literally spent hours dissecting the novel with my fellow AP english peers (I say this as I thumb through my overly highlighted and marked up 5 year old copy from class) and I could probably spend hours examining the film once it is released but lets just start with what we do know.
If you haven’t read the novel or know about the film, it follows the character Pi Patel in the events of his life including leading up to and becoming stranded in the Pacific Ocean in a lifeboat with a tiger named Richard Parker.
Beginning with the characters, we have two that are essential to the plot: Pi and Richard Parker.
Piscine Molitor Patel
Pi is a 16-year-old son of a zookeeper in Pondicherry at the start of the novel. When the family decides to move themselves and the zoo to Canada, disaster strikes as the boat sinks and Pi begins his 227-day experience in open water with a tiger, a, zebra, a hyena, and an orangutan (though only Pi and the tiger survive.)
One of the vital aspects of the titular life of Pi is his religious struggle. Beginning early in his life, he has trouble sticking with one religion. He finds solace and understanding in Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam, wondering why he can’t be all three religion.
“If there’s only one nation in the sky, shouldn’t all passports be valid for it?”
Pi’s religious devotion is mentioned throughout the novel but not always in an upfront manner. The use of color is very important within the setting on the novel from the very beginning. Noticing the use of blues, oranges, and greens, gives clues of to where Pi is religiously during major scenes. Whether this will be utilized within the movie is a different question. We know we have the tiger, Richard Parker, which represents his hindu faith, always there. Also the ocean and the sky, blue, and representative of his relationship with Christianity, encompassing him and keeping him afloat even in the most dire of moments in life. Lastly, there is the floating island of green, representing his interest in Islam. Will this be shown? Will this be the safe haven that allows him to survive the ordeal as it is in the novel both figuratively and literally?
Richard Parker is a Bengal tiger that coexists with Pi in the lifeboat for 227 days lost at sea. As I mentioned before, Richard Parker represents a lot of things in the life of Pi (see what I did there?) My main worry is that we will see him as nothing more than a fucking tiger in a lifeboat.
“There are many examples of animals coming to surprising living arrangements…where an animal takes a human being or another animal to be one of its kind.”
Will they delve into the actual makeshift friendship that occurs on the lifeboat between Pi and Richard Parker? Their relationship goes deeper than mere coexistance. Richard Parker is a stabilizing force both physically, but also emotionally and religiously. Without him there, Pi would not have survived, which leads into the ending.
::::Book Spoilers Ahead::::
Did it really happen? When the police and press come investigate Pi and his survival, they listen to his story but when questioned deeper he gives them a much deeper and darker story. A story that involves no animals, no Richard Parker, but only death and despair for 227 days. Pi leaves the audience, the police, and the press wondering which story was the true one.
Will the movie portray this alternative ending? Will it even be mentioned? It is important because you have to remember Pi, all in all, is still a child who could be capable of creating the fantastical story to mask the greater trauma he experienced, though we will never know for sure. However, given Hollywood’s penchant for focusing on the extraordinary aspects of a story while overlooking the original plot/actions/scenes, we can bet that something important will be left out.
“The world isn’t just the way it is. It’s how we understand it, no? And in understanding something, we bring something to it, no? Doesn’t that make life a story?”
You can see a clip from the film starring Sharma, Adil Hussain, Irrfan Khan and Gérard Depardieu below: Life of Pi hits theaters November 21.