My sister in law looked visibly shocked the first time I had the ‘zoo conversation’ with her. How could any woman who calls herself a mother REFUSE to take her Smalls to the zoo? Well, if you hate the concrete jungle that they call London Zoo and you don’t have any sort of affinity towards animals, it’s easy. With her annual membership to the animal home in her hand, we agreed to differ and my Smalls are left not knowing a Komodo dragon from another big, fat, heavy lizard.
But Ang Lee’s adaptation of the fantasy adventure novel Life of Pi by Yann Martel did draw out a little animal empathy in even me. And a whole lot of admiration and wonder too as I marveled at how Lee has transformed the seemingly unfilmable novel into a true magical vision.
Life of Pi never did have an easy ride. The novel was rejected by at least five London publishing houses before being accepted by Knopf Canada in September 2001. The following year the UK edition won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction and I remember, at that time, almost every passenger on London Underground clutched a copy.
Mr Lee has spent four long years working on this masterpiece. Piscine ‘Pi’ Patel, an Indian boy from Pondicherry with a zoo-keeping father, finds religion a little more than interesting. But, it is this believing and intense curiosity (we are lead to believe) which keeps him alive for 227 days at sea. Shipwrecked, stranded on a small rescue boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, he has only the company of a Bengal tiger to keep him sane.
I desperately wanted to leave the big American cinema with a little more belief in God. Just to see if it worked. I’m not sure I have done, but the story of human resilience and animal companionship has reminded me that strength of mind and friendship are powerful tools in the face of adversity. The twist at the end does throw into question how much of the story has been embellished by the storyteller to add a little more depth and meaning. After all, it is a fantasy adventure and storytelling has long been recognised as a means of survival. Perhaps, with humans as boat companions, the tale was too tall and by substituting in animals, it is easier to digest this truly magnificent cinematic experience.
Do see it in 3D on the largest screen possible.
The Life of Pi is out in cinemas from 20th Dec 2012.