I loved Yann Martel's award-wining novel and feared the movie would spoil it. It didn't. I should have been comfortable that the story would be safe in Ang Lee's hands.
Pi Patel, a bright young Indian grows up in an enquiring, liberal family, his father a zoo-owner, where his desire to believe in as many gods as there are drives his parents mad. They wish he would promote a spirit of scientific curiosity and not worry so much about faith. 'I want to be baptised' he states, spoiling a meal, although we can guess he will consider himself a Hinduislamochristian so syncretistic has his searching been to date.
He tells his story, looking back, to a young Canadian novelist, Martel, who has just given up on a long-term project, a novel set in Portugal which he has been in India writing. There he has met a member of Patel's family who suggest they meet. Over a meal and a walk Patel tells Martel the tale of what happened when his father decided to sell his zoo and emigrate but the ship was wrecked and he was left in a lifeboat. You only need to view the movie posters to learn there is also a Bengal tiger in the lifeboat with Patel so this is not a plot spoiler.
Patel explains the story in wonderful colour and depth, remarking as he does on the amazing relationship between humans and animals and the gods he prayed to as he came to the conclusion that he must accept the likelihood of his own death. Martel finds it hard to believe the story. 'As did the insurance investigators' says Patel and proceeds to tell the story he told the insurance people to satisfy them.
At the end of the second tale Martel is asked which he prefers and makes his judgement. He has a story to write. It is a good narrative device. We are asked to judge which of two fictions is the most believable.
In passing it is a delight to see meerkats treated as fast food, a tasty snack for a tiger, a lovely display of a starry night at sea and the comparative sizes of large fish and mammals. And the 3D experience, rather than doing the obvious thing of making animals jump at you, makes the whole thing come to life.
Go to Damaris to get resources to aid group discussion.