Life of Pi





Life of Pi

Based on Yann Martel’s award-winning eponymous book, the film, Life of Pi, tells the wonderful story surrounding a young man by the name Piscine ‘Pi’ Molitor Patel. The circumstances that encompass Pi are undeniably wrought in fantasy and surrealism as identified in the novel. The film begins with the protagonist stuck in sea following the wreckage of his family’s consignment ship during a storm. Interestingly, Pi is not the only being lost at sea. He has to endure the harsh waters in a swarming lifeboat that occupied his kinship’s zoo. These animals include an orangutan by the name Orange Juice, a hyena, a wounded zebra, and a mature Bengal tiger called Richard Parker. With the integration of three-dimensional elements and dramatic visuals, the film manages to capture the story in real time under the experienced guidance of famed director, Ang Lee. However, despite the film’s substantial efforts in capturing the story effectively and adequately, various differences are still apparent between the novel and the motion picture.

The contrast between the novel and the book is first illustrated in the opening sequence. In the novel’s introduction, a lengthy prologue presents the character and the context that he occupies to the audience in considerable detail. Foremost, Yann Martel provides a description of Pi using a first-person narrative (Martel para. 1). The establishment of a framed narrative structure allows the protagonist to create an informative yet personal introduction. Apart from this, Pi also introduces the community that surrounds him, particularly his parents, teachers, and mentors. Furthermore, the introduction integrates some of the protagonist’s zoo knowledge eventually foreshadowing the events that would take place in the narrative as it continues. On the other hand, the motion picture limits the introduction by cutting off Pi’s focus on his social life and his zoo experiences. Even though this may seem limiting to the book’s overall aim, it actually serves as a reminder concerning the significance of maintaining the lessons that Pi gains from his parents in the film.

Yann Martel’s book, Life of Pi, is narrative based on perspectives. The novel utilizes framed narrative in order to correlate the experiences of a boy’s jettison experience to that of a mature Bengal tiger in a lifeboat. Pi narrates two stories. The aim of this is to allow the reader to examine, measure, and select between both of them. The first narrative focuses on the pacific journey of Pi with four of the animals from his family’s zoo in a crowded lifeboat (Hobson para. 1). Due to the nature of the characters, the first story takes up a considerable amount of the text. The improbable coincidences and the fantastical temperament that take place towards the culmination of the book make it hard for the men interviewing the protagonist to confirm his narrative. From their viewpoint, the story especially with its inclusion of animals does not exude any form of rationality.

Exasperated with their lack of conviction, Pi narrates the second tale in brusque rational rhetoric. For the men, the story is undeniably brutal and cold. In order to exude rationality in the story, Pi allegorically replaces the animals with human characters. In the end, the tragedy witnessed in this respective tale is not hard to believe. Ironically, the brutal aspect of the second narrative motivates the Japanese to assume that Pi’s first story is better. The responses that the interviewers exhibit identify the measures that the novel uses in order to disseminate its content to the reader. Simply, the inclusion of a framed narrative in Life of Pi acts as a unique platform for telling the story in respect to truth which acts as a recurrent theme within the novel. In contrast to the film, the novel succeeds in motivating deeper philosophical analysis especially with the involvement of the Japanese men who symbolize the ardent reader or outsider (Robinson 128).

The same aspect involving the search for truth is also exhibited in the movie version of Martel’s novel. In comparison, the themes that are explored within the source material are fundamentally similar as those expressed in the movie. In the film, the stories that Pi conveys border on whether they are true or untrue. On one hand, the viewer may assume that both stories act as a way of repressing the true tragic events that surround the protagonist (Morse 12). On the other hand, it is also possible to allege that the stories do not necessarily have to be untrue even if they are preferable especially to the narrator. Without veering further from the contrast between the book and the film, the quest for truth occupies majority of the film. Unlike the novel, the story narrated by Pi focuses particularly on his interaction with four unlikely animals. In a larger context, this human-animal interaction forms the narrative basis for the film.

Consequently, the focus on the character’s love interest provides a contrasting view between the novel and the film. The inclusion of a love interest for Pi acts as a way of introducing Pi’s humanistic afflictions (Morse 9). For him, the relocation to another country is burdening due to the strain it stands to cause on his relationship as illustrated in the film. Furthermore, the introduction of the supposed love interest in the film allows the viewer to understand Pi’s emotional turmoil in relation to his transition to Canada. In both aspects, Pi is emotionally crushed after learning that his family is moving to Winnipeg, Canada despite the level of attachment associated with their Indian hometown, Pondicherry. Even though both facets are similar, the inclusion of a love interest for Pi in the film provides a contrasting perspective in respect to the novel.

In the movie, the protagonist’s parents express their utmost concern after discovering Pi’s involvement in Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity simultaneously (Rawden 2). As a result, his mother forces him to take part in working for a dance class located in his hometown in order to avoid such issues. As a result, Pi ends up falling in love with one of the female dancers. Because of his attraction towards her, the protagonist becomes involved in her life without her knowing. This is best illustrated when he decides to stalk her and her companions eventually erupting into a confrontation. Despite the confrontation, Pi is capable of smoothing things over and manages to get a date with her in which both characters spend their time traversing over his father’s zoo. As the film progresses, the two characters become romantically entangled which imposes a negative effect on Pi in respect to his parents’ move to Canada (Life of Pi).

The relationship between the tiger, Richard Parker, and Pi also varies considerably between the film and the book. In the film, Richard Parker is introduced as excessively aggressive. Even though Pi is capable of living with the carnivore for nearly 227 days, he is incapable of taming the tiger (Life of Pi). For instance, in one of the scenes, Pi attempts to train the tiger by influencing him to relate the noise emanating from his whistle to the sensation of a seasick experience. Even though this seems as a good strategy for taming the tiger, Richard Parker consistently exhibits aggression, which influences the protagonist to relinquish the training. In contrast, the knowledge that Pi exhibits towards the animals, especially the tiger is explored more considerably in the novel. Accordingly, Pi exudes significant caution around the tiger.

Even though the film depicts Pi as a scared individual, the novel asserts him as the alpha male as illustrated in his establishment of a territorial boundary. In his relation with the tiger, Pi is aware of the signs and sounds that the tiger exhibits in order to exude his aggression towards him (Martel 167). His experience with Richard Parker and other animals from the zoo set him as shown in the novel set him apart considerably from the way his character is exhibited in the film. However, the disparity evidenced by the film is aimed at connecting the viewer to Pi. By seeing the protagonist’s fear for Richard Parker, the film appeals emotionally and rationally to the viewer. The use of such rhetorical appeals in the film further connects the audience to the character of Pi. However, in terms of comparisons and contrasts, this aspect only distinguishes the film further from the novel.

The hallucinatory conversation between Pi and Richard Parker in the book deeply contrasts from the events witnessed in the culmination of the film. Towards the conclusion of the novel, the lack of food and water imposes a blinding implication on Pi. As a result, Pi is incapable of vision. Following this, he stumbles into an unexpected dialogue with Richard Parker regarding their favorite foodstuff (Martel 201). The subject of this conversation and the assumption surrounding the tiger’s involvement in the dialogue clearly indicate that the protagonist is mentally deprived. Following this, Pi engages in another unexpected encounter with another castaway. In desperate need for food, the individual attacks the protagonist. However, Richard Parker manages to save Pi’s life by killing the man.

On the other hand, the film does not include this sequence despite the pertinence it accords to Pi as a narrator. Towards the end of the motion picture, Pi engages in an interview with two Japanese insurance men who are attempting to understand the causative factors that led to the wreckage of his family’s ship (Life of Pi). As such, Pi provides two different versions of his experiences at sea after the occurrence of the ship’s wreckage. Even though both narratives are particularly absurd, the insurance men are more inclined to the first story depicting Pi’s interaction with the zoo animals (Robinson 133). Even though the film and book in this respect, the exclusion of the book’s final sequence in the film succeeds in connecting the story to the benefit of the audience. Furthermore, including the cut sequence in to the film would only sabotage the protagonist’s nature as a reliable narrator (Hobson para. 6).

The connection between Pi’s relationship with his parents and religion varies considerably between the book and the film. In the film, religion assumes a considerable role based on the way it defines Pi’s experiences as a castaway at sea. Towards the end, the question regarding the truth of the stories that he narrates plays a significant role in assessing the significance of his beliefs in polytheism. Even though this aspect of deism is explored in the novel, it does not particularly form the basis for Pi’s narrative. In Ang Lee’s film, the aspect of religious faith allows Pi to question God in respect to his experiences. His life as a castaway draws him further to the belief that God is undeniably existent. However, after veering towards a carnivore-filled island, his religious faith is shaky based on his doubts concerning God’s presence (Morse 10). The spiritual turmoil that he undergoes in the film is not present in the film irrespective of its importance in connecting the story fluidly.

In conclusion, Yann Martel’s book, Life of Pi, and Ang Lee’s adaptation of the film reveals a host of similarities and differences. Foremost, the introductions in the movie and the book are disparate in respect to time and the intended implications on the reader or audience. In the novel, Martel provides a lengthy introduction that captures several important aspects of Pi’s life. On the other hand, the film offers a limited introduction aimed at depicting the lessons that Pi applies in respect to his castaway experience. Other varying aspects between the book and the film involve the anecdotal focus on religious faith, the inclusion of Pi’s love interest in the film, Pi’s hallucinations towards the end of the book, the novel’s inclination towards a framed narrative, and the varying relationship between Pi and Richard Parker.





















Works Cited

Hobson, Derek. “Life of Pi (2001, 2012) Review: A Book to Movie Comparison.” Post Script Productions, 20 April 2013. Web. 17 October 2015. <>

Life of Pi. Dir. Ang Lee. Perf. Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Rafe Spall, Tabu. Twentieth Century Fox, 2012. Film.

Martel, Yann. “How I Wrote Life of Pi.” Powell’s Books Original Essays. Powell’s Books. n. d. Web. 6 Apr. 2013. <>.

Martel, Yann. Life of Pi. New York: Harcourt, 2001. Print.

Morse, Sarah. “Life of Pi: Perspectives on Truth.” English Seminar Capstone Research Papers 19 (2013): 1-38. Print.

Rawden, Jessica. “9 Big Differences between the Life of Pi Movie and Book.” Cinemablend, 21 November 2012. Web. 17 October 2015. <>

Robinson, Jack. “Yann Martel’s Life of Pi: Back in the World or ‘The Story with Animals is the Better Story.’” Other Selves: Animals in the Canadian Literary Tradition. Ed. Janice Fiamengo. Ottawa: University of Ottawa, 2009. 125-142. Print.

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