Life of Pi movie?
Today by chance I found out that a favoured book of mine is being cast into a full length film and be out by late 2012. The title of the book, rather uninterestingly is ‘Life of Pi’, created by, what the publishing world would regard as a ‘one hit wonder’ author; Yann Martel. I am aware of his latest book ‘Beatrice & Virgil (2010)’, which I have so far put off reading mostly from the less than welcoming reviews, so the above branding stands.
My reaction to the discovery is of bewilderment at how they could possibly pull this off (see later why it would be so difficult), and pessimism at the prospect of butchering a work that shines in its own right, for some quick Hollywood cash.
[Some subtle to mild spoilers are contained below]
What is the book about?
As briefly as possible, the book is a first person narration of the protagonist, Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel, an Indian boy from Pondicherry. Pi’s exploration of spirituality, personal introspection and survival begins from his childhood in India and climaxes in a development that leaves Pi alone with the boundless Pacific Ocean and an uninvited guest.
What made me enjoy the book so much?
First I wanted to say that fiction usually bores me, especially in book form. I would find more interest in a high school history book than following an imagined alien through a non-existent land. If the author doesn’t lose me with the dozens of names, I usually lose the will to read-on from lack of connection to reality.
So considering that ‘Life of Pi’ is fiction with a sprinkle of fantasy why have I enjoyed the book so much? Martel uses a lot of humour and wit when creating his novel. There is a lot of observational humour deriving from Pi’s inner thoughts such as the following in the early pages of the book “I have nothing to say of my working life, only that a tie is a noose, and inverted though it is, it will hang a man nonetheless if he’s not careful”.
The author did a brilliant undertaking in presenting to the reader what is usually heavy and possibly dry subject matter such as religion & zoology and cast it in a light and entertaining way that made me as a reader chuckle at times. It may be the absurd obsession of Pi to engage in all the major religions of the world simultaneously while giving his honest child-like commentary through the process that left a memorable mark in my mind.
Roughly in the second half of the book (Book has 100 short chapters) when Pi is plunged into adversary, the narration takes a more sombre tone. Martel’s ability lies in pushing his narrative to such a limit that the tale is worth hearing, but stopping short at the precipice of unbelievable storytelling. I can recall several times when I thought a cheesy cliché is awaiting me on the next sentence only to be pleasantly surprised at the words on the page.
Lastly a confession, I consumed this book in audio form. James Wood, who is the narrator I was privileged to hear did an amazing job at taking on each character especially Pi in a distinct and emotionally memorable manner.
Why I think this book will fail as a film?
The book is primarily from a first person perspective featuring Pi who tells his life story as a child with occasional reflections from his adulthood and a few paragraphs from the author himself.
A large part of the book features Pi without any other characters to communicate with. He does speak out load from sheer loneliness, but how long can that be maintained in film form?
Taking those two points it makes it difficult to see how the director is going to succeed in transforming this story into a film that is both true to the novel and doesn’t bore the viewers at the same time.
My hope only lies in the relative success of the movie ‘Castaway’ featuring Tom Hanks, that may give guidance to the director.
I recommend people give this book a go, but not take its subject matter too seriously. I have proudly added it to my narrow pantheon of admirable fiction and now wish others do as well.