Life of Pi: To Read or to Watch … That’s the Question, Isn’t it?

Sarabeth and I sat down to watch Life of Pi less than an hour after I finished reading the book. Having read the book of course, I was extremely excited for the movie – and curious as to how it had maintained just a PG rating.

I know some of my readers have yet to see the movie, or even read the book. Or maybe you’ve seen it, but not read it or visa-versa. So you’re wondering, is it worth reading or is it worth watching?

Allow me to share my thoughts on both written and visual depictions of the story by Yann Martel.

Life of PiLife of Pi by Yann Martel. Let me tell you, the first few sentences had me hooked. Now, let me make clear to you: I’m not blind to the fact that this book’s cover may have well been a picture of those “Coexist” bumper stickers. (Somebody pointed out at church recently that we already do coexist, so what’s the point of the sticker?)

I read books with many different hats on. I found myself having to switch hats on many different occasions while reading this piece of work.

As a blogger and book reviewer, I couldn’t wait to share this exciting read with my readers.

As an author, I learned many  new tricks from Mr. Martel, and am indebted to his bravery of venturing into new territories, and am awed by his storytelling abilities. He truly has proved himself a master of fiction.

As a husband, I sounded like this throughout the last two weeks: “Sarabeth, this book has a lot of potential” … “Sarabeth, I don’t agree with his religious outlook, but he’s such a great writer, I don’t care!” … “Umm… this book is really gory. You might not be able to read it” … “I just threw up” … “I just cried like a baby.” … “Finished. Let’s start the movie.”

But as a Christian, I was not blinded to the overt inclusivistic themes of the book.

(To be sure, the movie hammered those themes much more than the book did.)

I will say that it was extremely fascinating to hear the account of Christianity retold through the eyes of a Hindu/Muslim (yes, the main character Pi subscribes to both religions, plus Christianity).

I am a huge proponent of seeing the world (and God) through the eyes of non-Christians, which is one reason why I think it’s pointless for Christians to only read theology-based books, or listen to only Christian music.

There are so many passages from the book I wanted to share on this post to you all, but space (and time) limit me. So for the sake of story, I truly hope many of you get a chance to read this book. I would be remiss in not warning you however, as I hinted above, that the book is extremely gory at times, and could be overly upsetting to many animal-lovers.

life_of_piLife of Pi directed by Ang Lee. If anything stood in my way from watching the movie, it would have been director Ang Lee’s weak reputation as a movie director. Need I say more than 2003’s all-time disaster Hulk? That, and his insistance on being controversial, i.e. Brokeback Mountain.

But people have redeemed themselves before. Everyone deserves another chance.

I think Ang Lee did the story more harm than good. I don’t know if it was his decision to add all the weird New Age-y special effects, which really served as nothing more than a New Age mini-sermon disrupting the story, or Hollywood’s insistance to cash out on the 3d rage. Either way, the exagerated color schemes and light shows were all for naught, in my opinion.

I never felt that sense of hopelessness and fear and desperation that we should have felt from Pi since falling into the lifeboat. There was never that Cast Away feel of being alone and missing the life that has forgotten you thousands and thousands of miles away.

Danny Boyle, director of 127 Hours would have been a shoe-in for this project. He knows how to make the audience thirsty for a single drop of water. With a certain, magical way of filmmaking, he can trap every audience member’s hand between a rock and a wall, and convince us all to long for a knife to saw off our arm. That’s exactly the kind of director Life of Pi needed.

I would suggest watching the movie if you simply can’t get to the book. Because, in Lee’s defense, he does stay true to the story, despite his weird detours and out-of place special effects.

In summary. Despite my disagreement with Yann Martel’s vision of God, I will eagerly anticipate his next book.

I think Ang Lee has run out of chances with me.

What are your thoughts? Do you prefer the book or the movie?


About Andrew Toy
I'm in the beginning stages of starting my own publishing company that's unlike anything you've ever heard of in the industry. The direction of AdoptingJames is taking a 90-degree turn and will be more writing/publishing-focused. Stay tuned for huge updates and exciting news!

11 Responses to Life of Pi: To Read or to Watch … That’s the Question, Isn’t it?

  1. Rebekah L. says:

    I definitely preferred the book. I didn’t agree with his version of God, but it was a fascinating story. The movie fell far short of the book, in my opinion.

  2. debkirk3 says:

    It is always difficult for me to read the book and then watch the movie, especially if I have just read the book. It is always better if some time has elapsed between reading and watching. I get too invested in the details of the story in the book. I don’t like it when they leave those details out or change them – I think it is worse when they change them.

    • Agreed. This is one of the first times I’ve read the book first, if memory serves correctly. It made the book more enjoyable, because I’d rather be in suspense for two weeks, as opposed to just 90 minutes.

  3. ByronGordon says:

    I read the book some time ago, and I find I preferred it. The movie began to drag at some point and completely lost my wife (who hasn’t read the book). Like you, I found it interesting to see how someone with a different perspective could see God. And like you I felt like those elements were more heavily emphasized in the movie than I remember them in the book.

    On the flip side though, the special effects made me wish I’d seen the movie in 3D on the bigscreen, simply for the “wow” factor. I’d agree that they didn’t really add to the story (just like Avatar’s magnificent graphics didn’t save it from a dismally decayed story/plot) but they were impressive in and of themselves.

    • You’re right. I failed to mention that the water’s mirror-like reflection of the sky and other like-uses of visuals were very, very pretty to look at. I just felt like the director was using them as a crutch to make the movie and move on. It just upset me, because someone else who was actually passionate about the story could have pulled it off much better.

      • ByronGordon says:

        I agree. Sadly, I don’t remember many specifics from the book, but from what I remember, I thought it would be very difficult to translate to film. Sad. But then, Hollywood will probably recycle it in about ten – twenty years so maybe someone with passion for it will get a crack 😉

  4. SimplySage says:

    I haven’t done either but I appreciate your take on it. It will help me when I do.

  5. Marian says:

    “I am a huge proponent of seeing the world (and God) through the eyes of non-Christians, which is one reason why I think it’s pointless for Christians to only read theology-based books, or listen to only Christian music.”

    If more Christians would lift their eyes from their Bibles, they might get their heads out of their asses. Life of Pi and other stories of life and faith from non-Christian perspectives are EXACTLY what Christians need to tap if Christianity is going to survive another millennium with any integrity.

    Thank you for another thoughtful movie (and culture) review!

    • I think it is right for Christians to tap into their Bibles. In fact, the problem is, many of them don’t do that often enough (including myself). The problem is, Christians substituting their Bibles with books ABOUT the Bible. It’s even a bigger problem if that’s the only topic of study they’re investing in. Repeatedly reading the manual on how to run your refrigerator isn’t going to keep the food inside from expiring.

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