Life of Pi…Why?

Hey, I’m in danger of turning into a curmudgeon and I need your help.

It may already be too late. I keep wondering why they had to make Life of Pi into a movie.

Oh, I know. It came out ages ago. And no, I have not seen it. So why even bring it up?

Well, see, last month I finished reading Cloud Atlas. I can remember my reaction, because I wrote it into my journal, though I cannot reproduce it here verbatim: “effing BRILLIANT.”   Then I recalled that the reason I had read it was that my book group grew curious after the movie came out last fall, and that started me wondering: why make a movie out of this book?

(orig. photo courtesy foundwalls.com)

(orig. photo courtesy foundwalls.com)

(courtesy Pinterest.com)

(courtesy Pinterest.com)

The whole brilliance of Cloud Atlas is in its narration. The nested stories, jumping ahead in time, then falling back, revealing hidden connections, stimulating thought  And yes, I know that stories told visually can do this too, but they miss a key element: writing style. The way that Mitchell’s style changes with each of the six stories is what raises Cloud Atlas above the level of a great story, and turns it into something scintillating.

The potboiler tone of Luisa Rey’s tale, which we later learn is the manuscript of another character; the painfully gorgeous imagery of Sonmi 451 as she discovers real life; Zachry’s chopped and stunted syntax in the brave new tech-less world of the future…how can a movie capture these?

(orig. photo courtesy my.hsj.org)

(orig. photo courtesy my.hsj.org)

(courtesy samuel.ward.com)

(courtesy samuel.ward.com)

I remembered thinking much the same thoughts when Life of Pi came out the year before. That book captured me with its tricky narrative, the way the truth of the story itself is left hanging at the end. The way the whole thing begins as a memoir and only gradually reveals itself as a novel (or maybe I’m just slow). Yes, the visuals must be stunning. Didn’t it win an Oscar for that? (Note to self: start caring enough to google that.)  But Life is Pi is way more than visuals. If folks only see the movie, they’ll get something out of it, no doubt. But if they see the movie and forego the book, they’ve missed out big time.

I can certainly think of some books which were vastly improved by becoming screenplays: Schindler’s List and Chocolat are two that come to mind (the latter written by my college roommate’s husband, Bob Nelson Jacobs :)).

But I need some convincing here. Life of Pi–worth the celluloid (or pixels, or whatever they use these days)? Cloud Atlas? Can you think of other movies which add to the impact of their original books, or even surpass them? Or do you, bless your heart, actually agree with me? Are you a curmudgeon-in-training too?

7 thoughts on “Life of Pi…Why?

  1. Let me start off by saying that I have not read either of these books, but I have seen both films. In fact, we just watched Cloud Atlas on Friday and I thought about it all weekend. It is an absolutely amazing, novel (no pun intended) way of movie-making. The same was true for Life of Pi. I believe (hope) both will become classics not only for the wow factor of their special effects, but also for the filmmakers’ beautiful, albeit likely not perfect, rendering of the stories.

    I am glad I saw the movies before I read the books (they are both on my reading list, but may not have made it there if I hadn’t seen the movies) as I’ve discovered the hard way that I usually detest a movie if I’ve read the book first. This is because, as you note, movies cannot fully capture writing style (although the Wachowskis did get Zachry’s syntax and it totally frustrated me…) and they invariably leave out details from the books that I think are essential. I used to rage about this, probably in a very curmudgeonly way, too. But I truly love film as its own art form. Thinking of a movie made from a book as two separate pieces rather than one being derivative of the other, which is also derivative of the author’s experiences, helps me to enjoy them both. I, for one, am very, very glad that both of these novels were put on the big screen for even more of the world to take pleasure in. J

  2. Hi Gretchen,

    I haven’t read either book (yet) but have seen both movies. I love the concept of Cloud Atlas but it was confusing and hard to follow and I walked away scratching my head. On the other hand, I LOVED life of Pi. I think it was rather brilliantly done (hence all the Academy Awards).

    But I do agree that both books take you very deep within yourself and I have no doubt that so much is missed by not reading the books (which is why I will, some day).

    Thanks for the post.
    Suzanne

    • Thanks for your comment, Suzanne–I am thinking maybe I should always watch the movie first, THEN read the book. No more curmudgeon! But yeah–I’m a little weirded out by that date thing. Apparently my WP thinks it’s in Australia. Maybe I better check my Settings.

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