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Film - Seeing is believing

Would you survive a shipwreck with only a tiger for company?

Would you survive a shipwreck with only a tiger for company?

Yann Martel's Booker prize-winning novel Life of Pi was long considered "unfilmable". But director Ang Lee's two-hour film goes a long way towards capturing this extraordinary and spiritual tale of a boy who ends up at sea in a lifeboat with a tiger.

In the film, a middle-aged Pi (short for Piscine) tells his story to an unnamed author. Pi reveals how his family had owned a zoo in Pondicherry, India, but fled when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency. They set sail for a new life in Canada, taking some of the animals, including gorillas, birds and zebras, hoping to sell them to start a new life. But their ship sinks, leaving Pi stranded in a lifeboat for 227 days.

At first, he has a zebra, an orang-utan and a hyena for company. But hunger soon gets the better of the hyena, who kills the other two creatures. A Bengal tiger, named Richard Parker, then reveals himself from beneath the boat's tarpaulin and kills the hyena. Pi and the tiger drift together through the Pacific.

The themes of faith, doubt, our animal instincts, enlightenment and finding your path are explored in the film, but are sometimes blurred by Pi telling the story in voice-over. When the writer says, "It's a lot to take in, to figure out what it all means", Pi responds, "Why does it need to mean anything?"

What the film lacks in metaphor, it makes up for in spectacle, from the CGI tiger - composed of one million computer-generated hairs that had to be digitally "combed" by 12 artists - to the dramatic scene where the ship sinks during a thunderstorm and we see the doomed and drowning animals. Added to this, the 3D effects deliver an authentic but discomfiting sensation of seasickness.

Lee is certainly an artist and Life of Pi is even more beautiful than his Oscar-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The film is a good introduction for pupils to Martel's novel and its themes, as well as to storytelling and the way in which tales can be adapted for the screen.

When Pi is questioned by the authorities, after arriving on dry land, he tells them two versions of the story: one featuring Richard Parker and the other animals and another where the lifeboat is full of humans instead. Which story would you prefer? And what does that say about your beliefs and doubts? Most of us like a far-fetched tale - whether or not it makes us believe in fantastical human strength or in God.

What else?

Life of Pi is out now in cinemas nationwide.

TES partner National Schools Partnership has shared a creative writing resource inspired by the film, suitable for key stages 2-3.


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