Gold for Team GB in the rowing! There’s got to be a link in there somewhere to Yann Martel’s tale of a young boy lost on the Pacific ocean. Perhaps something like, ‘Thank goodness the British rowing pair were in safer waters yesterday than the character of Pi in Life of Pi‘. No, that’s awful. Truly awful. Why do they let me write for this paper?
To cut to the chase, Ang Lee’s silver-screen adaption of Martel’s modern literary classic Life of Pi is gradually approaching port, with release set for 21st December this year. Here at the OxStu we’ve often pondered the viability of page to screen adaptions, but it seems to me that Pi is a particularly puzzling story to take on, and could well have Ang Lee up the creek without a paddle come Christmastime.
The complexity lies in the fact that Life of Pi is not just a story about a boy on a boat. It’s not even just a story about a boy on a boat battling the elements and grappling with a 450lb Bengal tiger called Richard Parker. It’s a story about stories, which plays with ideas of religious narrative, meaning and lies. It’s a story about how stories can lend meaning to meaningless events that are themselves stories. Maybe I’m talking rubbish, but I’m sure it’s something like that.
Other work by Martel reveals his relentlessly rebellious take on form and narrative, which he tends to mould, bend and break at any point depending on how he feels the ideas can best develop. Ideas are always the motor, the words are just a vessel, perhaps more pointedly for Martel than most contemporary authors.
In an early short story entitled The Vita Æterna Mirror Company: Mirrors to Last till Kingdom Come, Martel features an entire page of the words ‘blah-blah-blah-blah…’, a fitting rebuff to any critics who take offence at his insouciance towards standard form. In Self, his first novel, the protagonist is bi-gender, flitting between male and female without notice depending on how Martel feels he can best connect with the reader at any point. It’s mind-boggling, and a little disturbing, but endlessly interesting.
My worry with a cinematic adaption of Pi is that it will struggle to convey the full power of Martel’s tale, which dangles on a knife edge between fact and fiction. With such immense location and breathtaking micro-action sequences, it could be that attention becomes a little too consumed by the glitz and glamour of the story, with perilously little emphasis placed on the personal journey of Pi, or the role stories play in his life and perception of events. Don’t get me wrong, it looks absolutely stunning, and who would expect otherwise from such a masterful director, but it’s not Ang Lee I’m worried about, it’s the suitability of such an ambiguous book.