“The ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival.” - Aristotle
Last weekend we watched Ang Lee’s 2012 film “Life of Pi”, based on the novel by Yan Martel, and starring Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan and Adil Hussain. I read the novel several years ago and I enjoyed it very much, which made me rather reluctant to watch the movie. Having been given the DVD as a gift, however, persuaded me to have a look at the movie, with a screenplay written by David Magee.
Let me preface the review by saying the film was unexpectedly enjoyable and a visual treat. The cinematography (Claudio Miranda), direction, special effects and CGI were quite amazing, supplemented by excellent acting and a music soundtrack by Mychael Danna that was well-suited to the action and atmosphere of the movie. Nevertheless, that said, the most memorable part of the soundtrack is the Indian Tamil song playing during the beginning of the film and during the end credits.
“Life of Pi” is a fantasy adventure novel by Yann Martel published in 2001. The protagonist, Piscine “Pi” Molitor Patel, is a Tamil boy from Pondicherry, who is brought up by an educated and family in an intellectually stimulating environment. He explores issues of spirituality and practicality from an early age, and although brought up as a Hindu, also discovers Christianity and Islam. He starts to follow all three religions as he “just wants to love God”. He tries to understand God through the lens of each religion and comes to recognise benefits in each belief system. When his father decides to take his family and move to Canada with the animals form the zoo they own, The ship sinks and Pi is the only survivor. He survives 227 days while stranded on a boat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. The novel, which has sold more than ten million copies worldwide, was rejected by at least five London publishing houses before being accepted by Knopf Canada, which published it in September 2001. The UK edition then won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction the following year (aspiring authors, don’t give up after your manuscript gets rejected repeatedly!).
The novel according to the author, Yann Martel, can be summarised in three statements: “Life is a story... You can choose your story... A story with God is the better story.” A recurring theme throughout the novel seems to be credibility: Truth versus falsehood, veracity versus untruthfulness, fact versus fiction, believability versus unbelievability. Pi at the end of the book asks the two investigators of the shipwreck: “If you stumble about believability, what are you living for?” According to Gordon Houser there are two main themes of the book: “That all life is interdependent, and that we live and breathe via belief.”
The novel (as well as the film) is very non-sectarian and depends on the concept of belief in a benevolent, spiritual creator not aligned with any, or perhaps aligned with all religions. It is a deeply spiritual book and according to the author it defined his being and helped him find a purpose in his life. The 2012 film adaptation was given a wide release in the United States on 21 November 2012 and at the 85th Academy Awards it won four awards from eleven nominations, including Best Director.
The film is vibrantly visual. The colours and sounds of India soon give way to the beauty and terror of the Pacific Ocean, while the interaction of humans with animals is constantly running theme in the narrative and transferred to screen well. Some of the fantasy scenes are quite spectacular and the manner in which the cinematographer and director have dealt with the confined space on the lifeboat is inventive and interesting. We enjoyed seeing this film greatly, although I still preferred the book! Read it first and then see the movie…