When I first read The Life of Pi and the narrator suggested this book will make you believe in God, I remember thinking bring it on. I was determined that there was nothing that could make me believe in something I knew was a myth. Of course, like anyone who has read this book, by the end, I believed. The story of a boy and a tiger, lost at sea is one that is worth believing. It quickly became one of my favourite books.
So it was with some trepidation that I awaited the film version. Even when I realised that Ang Lee was at the helm, I couldn’t see how justice could possibly be done to this fabulous novel. How could it be possible that the magical nature of this book could be captured on film? After all, the nature of most adaptations of great books make less good films. Especially a book that is so based in faith and magic. That so depends on the suspension of disbelief.
On the journey to the cinema, my husband and I entertain ourselves by trying to think of an adaptation of a novel that is better than the novel itself. We could not. Don’t get me wrong I’m not suggesting that there are not film versions of novels that are excellent. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Shawshank Redemption, LA confidential, American psycho, Trainspotting to name but a few. But the book is always better. We did debate Slumdog Millionnaire, Schindler’s List and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as being better but in each case we had watched before readingand decided that that made a difference.
As to the film, it was magical. It is the first film I’ve seen where I really enjoyed the use of 3D. it enhanced the story and really added to the feeling of being a part of it. There can be no denying that this film is a thing of beauty. Whales, dolphins, meercats, flying fish, not to mention that incredible tiger, all look amazing. The acting is good and the story follows the book fairly accurately. It is hard to fault really. And of course, you know that the story of Richard Parker is the one you want to believe even if it is not the one that is true.
But there is no doubt that the book is better. For a start, in a story about belief, making the story in your head, is much more an expression of faith than watching it. Ang Lee’s version of the story is beautiful and glorious but it is not my version of the story. Belief is a very personal thing. There is no bettering your own imagination, no matter what clever CGI you have at your disposal. In some ways the spectacle of the film detracts from the emotion of it and the ending seems a bit like a damp squib, compared to the emotions I felt when I finished reading the book. This may be due to the difference between watching and reading. Reading is an act of faith. Watching requires you to merely do that. Watch and process. There is no sense in questioning what you can see before your eyes. We didn’t need to believe. We had just seen it. If you could see God walk down the street every day then there would be no need for belief because he would exist. This is the difference between watching and reading The Life of Pi.