It's now been adapted into a film, directed by Ang Lee and starring both Suraj Sharma and Irrfan Khan (among others) as the eponymous Pi. As usual for a waverider37 review, spoilers (and heaps of them) follow.
I have never read the book, so I'm going purely on JyZude's synopsis above. It's more or less the same, except that "part three" (the interview) is not at the very end, but rather scattered throughout the film. It still chronicles the adventures of Pi as he grows up in India, then is the lone survivor of a shipwreck. Again, an improbable story is told in a realistic fashion, but this time we can actually visualise how Pi survives the disaster, then the ensuing hardships on a lifeboat with a tiger (named "Richard Parker" - this oblique name comes from a clerical error).
I'll start with the obvious comparison-with-book stuff. From what I can tell, the book is very linear (please correct me if I'm wrong), but given that the interview pops up at several stages throughout the film it is pretty clear to see that Pi will survive the ordeal. Perhaps it's my analytical mind, but I made note of this at several stages throughout the film. Having said that, it didn't detract from the storyline except at one point, when Pi remarks to "Richard Parker" that they are going to die. Ditto for my immediate feeling of "oh man this is going to be a Cast Away clone" when the ship sinks. So, the storyline is cool, though I have one major point to add about it.
Whenever I see a film with any sort of surrealism that isn't a kids' movie or sci-fi fantasy, I immediately think "stream of consciousness". I even think that of comedies (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a brilliant example). It was only natural, therefore, that as soon as the
jellyfish sea jellies started glowing the phrase popped into my mind. And perhaps it was a stream of consciousness. I don't know. I have no idea how Yann Martel meant for the storyline to go, nor how screenwriter David Magee interpreted it, but my interpretation is that Pi was perhaps hallucinating, dreaming, daydreaming, or something similar. Reason? To keep his brain occupied, to avoid insanity, or because he was already half-insane due to loneliness...? Don't know, don't much care, because amazing cinematography.
Yes. This was the thing that drew me to the film. Like Avatar some years ago, it came with a lot of promise of awesome CGI. And naturally, with exotic animals in the film, it had to be pretty amazing cinematography. It promised, it delivered. It was colourful, it was enchanting, it was gripping, it was all of the above. No doubt awards will be won. And it also wasn't over-the-top, unrealistic (to a point), or cartoonish. I have absolutely no gripes in this respect.
Acting? For the story given, the acting was remarkably good. Not my favourite, but still very good. I particularly enjoyed Pi's courting of Anandi (Shravanthi Sainath) - it is a stunningly correct example of many teenage boys' experiences with relationships. I also liked Adil Hussain's portrayal of Pi's father - one minute he is a kind father trying to teach Pi about religion, the next, furious at Pi for attempting to bond with "Richard Parker". His role was short, but became a powerful influence in other parts of the story. Flawless acting, also, by all three actors who played the part of Pi's big brother Ravi (the most screen time going to Vibish Sivakumar), being the second half of a sibling relationship that reminded me very strongly (though not painfully) of the relationship between myself and my own sister.
Soundtrack? Wonderfully minimalistic. In fact, I noted a couple of points where there was no music. This deliciously brought out the sound effects from the screen and made me feel as though I could be there1. Everything else? Not much that detracted from the storyline in any big way. I did feel that the "second part" was a bit drawn-out, though, and I did feel that eerie sense of "this ain't realistic" creeping in aroundabout the time he hit the "carnivorous island". Having said that, though, meerkats make everything better... until the rather anticlimactic ending hit.
The ultimate question, asked at both ends of the film: does Pi's story make you believe in God? Nope. Perhaps I didn't read into the story in the right way, or perhaps the notion was too grand, but I remain very atheist afterwards.
The second ultimate question: which story do I believe? The story with the tiger, or without? Personally, I prefer a third story that is a nice amalgamation of the two. In my interpretation, the animal story is correct up to a point (the timing of which I am a little uncertain), but then it dives into Pi's psyche, whether daydream or hallucination. Indeed, it is deliberately left ambiguous as to which story viewers believe: should I think that Pi really did connect and coexist with "Richard Parker", or that human lives hung in the balance the entire time to the point where Pi watched his own mother being killed? And before you answer this for yourself (if you've seen the film or read the book), think for a second: where were "Richard Parker"'s footprints2? He walked across sand at the end of the film - did Pi even look for them, or convince his rescuers to look for them?
Enough. Hopefully that's enough for folks to think about, so I'll give it 7.5/10 and leave it at that.
1Compare and contrast with Star Wars episodes IV and III, respectively - less music in the former made it feel more real than the latter.
2While writing this review, I note the "footprints" story, reproduced here. I am not sure exactly how much bearing this has, or indeed should have, on the rest of the story, so I leave it as an exercise for the reader if s/he so wishes.