The Life of Pi – A Review

I must have picked up the book of The Life of Pi, and put it back down again several time before I finally bought it, probably as the third book in a ‘three for two’ offer.  Each time I had been put off by the blurb on the back, which talked about philosophy and theology; and generally, I prefer a story which inspires insight, rather than being signposted to something deep.

As it turned out I really enjoyed the book; I read it entirely as an allegorical adventure, as an act of pure story telling, which I consumed, utterly engrossed, and when I wasn’t reading it, I was anticipating getting back to it.  Any philosophy rather passed me by.

I approached the movie wondering how believable the story of the boy Pi surviving a ship wreck on a life boat with Richard Parker, an idiosyncratically named adult Bengal tiger, could be on the screen, when in my imagination it had made perfect sense.

The fact that the film is in 3D was also something which I wondered about, I’ve never seen a whole film in 3D before; apart from a short cartoon thing at Disneyland, I was a novice to the technology.  Until now, the movies that have come out in that format have not appealed to me, based on special effects rather than story, and so I was curious to see what the effect would be.

The answer is that the film is beautiful, exploring every possible aspect of a small boat adrift in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, storms, waves washing over them, starlit skies reflected in still water, flying fishes, a whale, and glowing jelly fish.  All with an adult Bengal tiger (albeit mainly CGI) on board.

The thing I liked in the book was the step by step way that Pi learnt how to mange the tiger, from pure fear for his life, through incrementally, gradually gaining ground on it, to finally training it.  The cod religious themes were more noticeable to me in the film than the book but not to such an extent that it spoilt it, and it certainly didn’t feel like a long film, even though it is, at over 2 hours.

I think, because I suffer so badly from sea sickness, what appealed to me most was the strategic use of boat rocking to induce nausea to make the tiger more malleable.  I just know how it felt.

And fundamentally the film is about story telling and film making, because it poses the question about story, which would you sooner hear, an elaborate imaginative, beautiful one, or one which is bleak and mean?

I’m still not convinced about  the 3D-ness of it, as although having things leap out of the screen at me was a bit startling, it wouldn’t be my first choice for entertaininment; I think I would have enjoyed it as much in the regular 2 dimensional format (and I wouldn’t have got the dent in the top of my nose from the silly glasses.)

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  1. I loved the book, so did Alex, we both read it ages ago. And I’m so out of things that I didn’t even know they’d made a movie. But your review is great, and when it gets here I’ll go and see for myself.

    • Like the book, the film has garnered very mixed reviews but I do hope you get the chance to see it for yourself.

  2. Rowena, I have to say that you have managed to change my mind and I’m now going to see the movie 🙂

    I also hesitated a while before reading the book but when I did, I was immersed in the adventure and the wonderful exercise to the imagination that it posed. When I saw the trailer of the movie, I thought it would be badly executed and would therefore forever ruin the book. I’m glad that you wrote this review.

    • I know that opinions here in the UK vary on the movie, but I enjoyed it. so I hope you do to.

  3. I will also make a point of seeing the film, not least because I tried about four times to get into this book and just couldn’t on with it at all. At least this way I won’t completely miss out! Thanks for your review.

    • I hope you like it Isabel. The friend I went with hadn’t got on very well with the book either and had been told by others that there were some boring bits in the film, but she was entranced by it too, and said she hadn’t been in the slightest bit bored.

  4. I did like the book, having no trouble with allegory or dreamscape realities, so I was excited when I saw the ads for its imminent screening in Singapore. “Another great film I’ll miss on the big screen”, I wailed inwardly. While I wouldn’t necessarily need to see it with the 3D glasses making the fish fly in my direction (!), that you enjoyed it (and that it has received mixed reviews – always a good sign, I think, of something interesting) places it firmly on my watch list – even if it has to be on DVD.


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