Life of Pi Taught Me the Power of Film

Click here to see the trailer for Life of Pi. (Photo courtesy of IMDB.)

Growing up, I never felt like I fit in.

That’s why, for as long as I can remember, I’ve looked for escapes from reality. It started with books; I would read – and read and read. And read. The more fantastical the book, the better. I was, and still am, a voracious reader, but as I got older I realised that I’d need stronger, more imagination-stretching stuff to get the desired escapist effect. That’s where my love for film comes from. Films have showed me visions of galaxies far, far away, given me glimpses into other people’s lives and forced me to stare straight into my own, for better or worse.

I have more fond memories of movies than I can count, but the first among equals has to be Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, a film that not only revolutionised the way I watch movies, but inspired me to start making them myself.

Life of Pi is based on a novel of the same name by Canadian author Yann Martel. I first heard about it in elementary school, after listening in to my school librarian gush to a group of older kids about how great of a book it is. I received the book as a birthday present in 2012 after having not shut up about it since the movie adaption was announced. Although I struggled with reading it at first, which was rare for me, I was determined to finish it before watching the film.

My family and I decided to see the movie on New Year’s Eve and, in an unprecedentedly clutch move, I managed to finish the book 20 minutes before leaving for the theatre.

What I saw that night would significantly change my life.

The movie, to me, was on another level from any I’d seen up until then. Not only in terms of cinematography, CGI and acting, but in its subtext, which struck me in a way nothing else ever had.

Life of Pi is a story about struggling to belong, losing hope – along with everything and everyone you’ve ever known – and the will to keep going, in spite of it all. Pi, a shipwrecked Indian boy, is left on a lifeboat with an adult Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Pi and Richard Parker develop a deep reliance on each other. They need one another, not only to survive, but to stay sane. Richard Parker needs Pi to feed him, and Pi needs motivation for his journey, a reason to keep fighting to stay alive. If Pi didn’t have the tiger, he’d be completely alone.

 Fun Fact: the name Richard Parker was inspired by the legal case R v Dudley and Stephens, which set the standard for law on the ocean. A shipwreck left four men stranded, including a 17-year-old cabin boy, Richard Parker, who was murdered by the other sailors for food in 1884 . (Photo credit IMDB.)

Fun Fact: the name Richard Parker was inspired by the legal case R v Dudley and Stephens, which set the standard for law on the ocean. A shipwreck left four men stranded, including a 17-year-old cabin boy, Richard Parker, who was murdered by the other sailors for food in 1884 . (Photo credit IMDB.)

Life of Pi deals with religious and cultural boundaries while telling a coming of age story centred around facing adversity and learning to appreciate the small beauties in life. As a 14-year-old trying to figure out who I was, and what the world is, seeing the depths of human emotion in Pi’s struggles to understand all the unfortunate happenings in his life gave me a sense that I, too, could rise to whatever challenges the universe throws at me. 

It also gave me a sense of comfort. It was one of the first films I remember getting lost in. Seeing the movie in theatres, on a giant screen with booming sound, made me feel like I could hide and fully immerse myself. Pi also taught me that big budget production with stunning visuals can still have a meaningful, impactful message that resonates with audiences.

“How can he find his way if he does not choose a path?” -Santosh Patel, Pi’s father, Life of Pi (2012)

After I left the theatre, my obsession with escapism turned into a genuine passion for film. Now when I watch movies I try to consider and appreciate every aspect of them. Why did the director chose that particular camera angle at that particular moment? Why did that actor react the way they did? Why was this movie made in the first place? Not only that, it inspired to create my own movies with abstract visuals and messages of hope.

Life of Pi showed me the impact films can have. For someone like me, who related to the isolation portrayed and subsequently overcome in the movie, Pi’s courage meant so much. I believe that meaningful, imaginative stories, like Life of Pi, can change the world, even if it’s only one person’s world at a time.