Life of Pi

Movies based on books have the advantage of a built-in fan base and the curse of the expectations of those same people. Those expectations are almost guaranteed not to be met. It’s simply not possible to capture all of a novel in two hours. The vision of the director and screenwriter is necessarily an abstraction of the original book, and that vision is not generally going to be the vision you had when you read the book. So to the extent it’s possible, it’s best not to compare the two forms and to try to approach the movie as an independent work of art that, on reflection, happens to have a lot in common with that book you read once. That said, I will now happily relate that I liked the movie Life of Pi more than the book.

That may not be relevant or useful information to you until I say that I found the book both fascinating and irritating, especially its long survey of world religions by way of introduction to the protagonist, Pi Patel. The movie is framed by an older Pi recounting his story, shown in flashback, to a writer. Director Ang Lee creates a beautiful and mystical world. Pi’s family in India owned a zoo, and we are introduced to it with a series of stunning shots of colorful animals that I almost wished would not end. The beauty of the movie continues, but the peaceful nature comes to an abrupt end when the freighter that is carrying Pi and his family and all their animals to a new home in Canada sinks in a storm in the Pacific ocean. Pi shares a lifeboat with a tiger on a magical journey across the ocean. Lee’s Oscar win for Best Direction is well-deserved.

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