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The 32 Differences Between 'Life of Pi': Book and Movie

life of pi book and movie comparison essay

A boy, a tiger and a boat. These are the main elements of "Life of Pi," the 127-minute Ang Lee film, released this week, that many are hailing as a masterpiece and a likely Oscar nominee. The 2001 Yann Martel novel the screenplay was based upon, sharing the title, was similarly showered with accolades: It won the prestigious Man Booker Prize for Fiction, and was inescapable on year-end best-of lists.

Both acclaimed, yes, but there are surely differences between what you'll find thumbing through the novel and sitting in a crowded theater. As Martel told The Guardian , changes are inevitable.

“You have to let go," he said. "You have to trust. And it was a crazy and fun ride.”

Here are the differences we spotted between the book and the film.

Massive spoiler warnings ahead.

1. The Opening

Book version: "Life of Pi" opens with a fictitious author's note, beginning with line, "This book was born as I was hungry." The author explains the dips and valleys of his career, and how he came to learn of the main character in his story. Sixteen pages (and descriptions of travels in India and Canada, with mental wanderings to Portugal) later, the fictitious author has thanked many who made the book possible, including the Canada Council for the Arts.

Movie version: After a credits sequence wandering through the zoo where the main character grew up, we cut straight to adult Pi in Canada, telling his story to a man whose character is credited as "The Writer." Here, we get the trailer's most effective line: "This is a story that will make you believe in God."

Level of change: Large.

Good or bad change: Good. We don't have to slog through a long passage that does more to confuse the reader than to set the scene. Instead, we jump right into the story.

2. Pi's education

Book version: Pi begins by regaling us with tales of his double-major Bachelor's studies (religion and zoology) in Toronto, including a lengthy meditation on the "peaceful, vegetarian life" of the three-toed sloth.

Movie version: We only see young Pi in school, pleading with his classmates not to call him "pissing" (a deliberate mispronunciation of his full name, Piscine) anymore.

Level of change: Small.

Good or bad change: Neutral. Adult Pi mentions that he teaches religious studies now, but we don't get to hear as much about his dual fascination with religion and animal nature as we do in the book. It makes where he ends up a little less important.

3. Pi's time in the hospital

Book version: Pi got along well with the nurses and doctors, who left him gifts and cared for him despite their language differences. His condition upon washing up on the beach of Mexico is detailed, sodium levels, leg swelling and all. This is also explained early on.

Movie version: We only see Pi telling the Japanese insurance investigators his stories, at the film's close.

Level of change: Medium.

Good or bad change: Good. It adds some suspense to the story, even though we know he survives, to not see him recovering in Mexico before we have any idea what happened. Also, I was not curious about the color of his urine, which the book helpfully shares. ("Deep, dark yellow going on brown," if you were wondering.)

4. Pi and swimming

Book version: He is painstakingly taught by Mamaji to swim, first by learning the strokes on land, then by swimming laps upon laps in the local pool. His father is also fascinated by "swimming lore."

Movie version: Pi is unceremoniously tossed into the pool by Mamaji, and his father is never mentioned in the same sentence as swimming.

Good or bad change: Neutral. It doesn't make a difference how he learned, only that he can swim.

5. Pi and the zoo

Book version: Pi talks for a while about the ethics of zoos, and whether the animals would like to be free or not, as well as the pleasures of growing up with full access to all the animals.

Movie version: None of this.

Good or bad change: Neutral. This is just a print vs. film thing. There's not much of a way to fit in Pi's thoughts on cages, and how many scenes of a little kid staring at elephants do we really need?

6. Mr. Kumar

Book version: Pi's biology teacher, Mr. Kumar, is the first atheist he ever meets. They debate religion, and Pi credits him with his decision to study zoology.

Good or bad change: Good. The movie focuses more on Pi's journey, less on his theological ponderings. Mr. Kumar was extraneous to that theme.

7. Feeding the tiger

Book version: Pi's father, unprompted, brings Pi and his brother, Ravi, to the tiger cage to "teach them a lesson" about anthropomorphizing the zoo animals. He has starved Mahisha, a 550 lb. Bengal tiger, for three days, before, in front of the children, he has a keeper drop a goat into the cage. The tiger chases the goat around and, of course, rips it apart with his teeth. Pi's father then walks his sons around the zoo and explains how each of the animals could kill them if they're not careful.

Movie version: Pi's brother rats him out for trying to feed Richard Parker, the new tiger, a hunk of raw meat out of his bare hand. His father makes him watch Richard Parker pull a goat through the bars and eat it, though the camera cuts away before the kill shot. Pi's father then lectures Pi about looking into animals' eyes and seeing yourself reflected there.

Level of change: Big.

Good or bad change: Bad. The movie version sets Pi up as a bit of a careless dummy, instead of an inquisitive scholar. It's also a bit heavy handed with the animals-to-humans metaphor that's woven throughout the book.

8. Pi discovers Catholicism

Book version: Pi's family takes a trip to another town, where he wanders into a church and has tea and biscuits with Father Martin, who tells him intriguing stories.

Movie version: Pi's brother dares him to sneak into the church and drink holy water. He then returns again and again to talk to Father Martin, who is kind to him.

Good or bad change: Bad. Movie Pi is, again, kind of a jerk. In the book, he's more curious, less mean-spirited.

9. Pi discovers Islam

Book version: Pi meets a baker in Pondicherry's Muslim Quarter who teaches him about Islam.

Movie version: We don't see Pi being introduced to the religion, he just suddenly has a prayer rug.

Good or bad change: Bad. There isn't time to linger on each of Pi's discoveries, but it wouldn't hurt to flesh out his explorations a little.

10. "Three wise men" fight

Book version: The imam, the priest and the pandit all see Pi in the city and identify him as part of their religion, then squabble, insisting that one person can't have three faiths. Pi insists that he "just wants to love God."

Movie version: None of this happens.

Level of change: Moderate.

Good or bad change: Good. The movie jumps around in time and location enough without this. We get it: he's religious.

11. The Patels leave India

Book version: Pi's father wants to leave India because he's nervous about owning a business in that political climate.

Movie version: Pi's father says "things will be better for us" in Canada.

Good or bad change: Good. We don't need the descriptions of 1970s Indian politics.

12. Pi's girlfriend

Book version: Pi doesn't have a girlfriend, never attends a dance class and plays no instruments.

Movie version: Pi falls in love with a girl while drumming for a dance class. They "break each others' hearts" when he leaves India.

Good or bad change: Bad. Really, does everything need to have a romantic aspect?

13. Adult Pi's family

Book version: In an aside from the writer about a third of the way through the book, he describes meeting adult Pi's wife, children and pets. "This story has a happy ending," the writer notes.

Movie version: Pi's family isn't revealed until the closing frames of the movie, when the writer is surprised to meet them coming home.

Good or bad change: Good. It's a nice surprise, and a good reminder that life goes on, after hearing this traumatic story. One event doesn't define Pi's whole existence.

14. Richard Parker: Manimal

Book version: Pi refers several times to Richard Parker without mentioning that he's a tiger. We think he's a human, not understanding why Pi wants to knock him out with an oar, until he's onboard the lifeboat and is identified as an adult Bengal tiger.

Movie version: Pi points out Richard Parker as the finest animal in the zoo to his girlfriend before leaving India.

Good or bad change: It's hard to say how this reveal would have been pulled off in the movie, but it's such a great switcharoo in the book, it would have been worth preserving somehow.

15. Richard Parker on the boat

Book version: Pi throws a lifebuoy to Richard Parker, who is in the water, and pulls him into the boat before realizing what he's done. Commence freakout. Then, Pi thinks for days that Richard Parker isn't even on the boat, until he makes an appearance on day three.

Movie version: In the calm after the storm, Pi peeks under the tarp. Richard Parker springs out.

Level of change: Adult Bengal tiger-size. Huge.

Good or bad change: Good. It's hard to convey the blind panic that makes Pi help Richard Parker onboard, and the 3-D tiger jumping out at audiences is a great payoff for straying from the novel.

16. The storm

Book version: Pi goes to the deck after hearing the noise of the storm. When he decides to go down to wake his family and sees water below deck, he runs back upstairs for help.

Movie version: Pi swims through the water below deck looking for his family, passing a zebra underwater.

Good or bad change: He still looks for his family in both, but the only real difference is how cool the movie effects look in the underwater scenes.

17. Hyena track meet

Book version: The hyena onboard the lifeboat constantly runs laps around the rim of the boat, cackling and driving Pi slowly insane.

Movie version: The hyena is only in the picture for a few minutes, tops. No lap-running is done.

Good or bad change: The hyena is much more present in the book, but the few minutes that it was there and making those sounds was more than enough.

18. Hyena attacks the zebra and Orange Juice

Book version: On the second day on the lifeboat, the hyena rips off the zebra's broken leg and eats it. On the third day, the hyena rips a hole in the zebra's stomach and begins eating it, which is described in graphic detail. Orange Juice the orangutan protests, but the hyena doesn't attack her. On the fourth day, Orange Juice and the hyena finally tangle (the zebra is still alive). The hyena kills her, totally beheading her.

Movie version: All of this is condensed, taking place on what seems to be the first day. The hyena attacks and kills the zebra, Orange Juice protests and is then killed. The camera cuts away from the gore, and Orange Juice seems to only have one small wound when she dies.

Good or bad change: Good and bad: It was bad to condense the timeline like that, as if we don't spend enough time hanging out with just Pi and Richard Parker in this movie, but good that viewers are spared what is described in the book as a blood-covered boat and Orange Juice dead and decapitated in a pose like "a Simian Christ on the cross."

19. Richard Parker's backstory

Book version: Seven people in the same area in India were killed by a female tiger. The hunter named Richard Parker set out to kill her and found that she also had a cub, who was at the time drinking from a river. Both the mother and cub were sent to the zoo, and because of a clerical error, the cub was listed on the paperwork as "Richard Parker" and the hunter as "Thirsty None Given."

Movie version: The same story, minus the tiger mother and the killing rampage.

Good or bad change: Neutral. It's a good story behind the name, but there's no point in dragging anyone's mother into this.

20. Death of a hyena

Book version: Richard Parker kills the hyena a day after the hyena kills Orange Juice.

Movie version: All of the animals, save Richard Parker, are killed in one big fight.

Good or bad change: Bad, as decided earlier. The action did not need to be condensed to give us more time to watch Pi crawl around on a boat with Richard Parker.

21. Pi plans to kill Richard Parker

Book version: Pi spends time thinking of ways to kill Richard Parker, including pushing him off the boat, sedating him, attacking him, choking him, poisoning him or starving him.

Movie version: This never happens.

Good or bad change: Bad, or just baffling. Movie Pi seems to adjust pretty quickly to the idea of cruising with a tiger.

22. Taming Richard Parker

Book version: Pi has a moment where Richard Parker reminds him of an oversized housecat, and decides that he must tame him and keep him alive.

Movie version: Afraid of dying, Pi reads in the survival manual how to tame a wild animal and tries to get along with Richard Parker.

Good or bad change: Bad. The kid grew up in a zoo - it's not totally inconceivable that he would know a thing or two about animal behavior. It's unlikely that the survival guide would have circus training tips in it, and movie Pi has no reason to decide he wants Richard Parker to live.

23. Naked Pi

Book version: From the combination of sun and saltwater, Pi's clothes essentially disintegrate. He goes about his incredible voyage naked, and severely sunburned.

Movie version: Pi has a little self-fashioned turban and a pair of curiously clean white pants throughout the movie. Level of change: Small.

Good or bad change: Neutral, and obviously made for the sake of decency.

24. Food variety and storage

Book version: Pi hangs lines of dried fish all over the place to make sure he always has food, and is also described capturing, killing and eating massive sea turtles and sharks. He also, at one point, tries to eat Richard Parker's feces.

Movie version: We see Pi, previously a vegetarian, fish a few times, crying the first time he smashes an animal's head.

Good or bad change: Neutral. It wouldn't have been too difficult to change things up, but in the end it doesn't matter. A good change: we're spared watching Pi try to eat tiger poop.

Book version: A few whales skim past Pi's boat, one close enough that he worries it will smash the boat with its tail.

Movie version: A hallucinated, acid-green whale leaps out of the water at one point.

Good or bad change: For the sake of 3-D and all that other great movie technology, we'll take it.

26. Ships in the night

Book version: A giant oil tanker comes very close to Pi's boat, but doesn't see him and quickly disappears.

Good or bad change: Bad. This was a brief, but surprising moment of hope in the story, then a massive letdown. It certainly wouldn't hurt the story.

27. Message in a bottle

Book version: A bundle of trash from the oil tanker floats by Pi one day, and he puts a message (his name, the ship's name, and the fact that he's on a boat with a Bengal tiger) in a wine bottle he finds, then throws it back to sea.

Movie version: Toward the beginning of his voyage, Pi puts a message in an empty water can, but we don't see what he writes.

Good or bad change: Neutral.

28. Dear diary

Book version: Pi writes his diary until his pen runs out of ink, the last entry simply reading, "I die."

Movie version: Pi's diary blows away in a gust of wind, lost at sea.

Good or bad change: Bad. How would he have been telling the story to the writer in such detail if his diary was totally gone? He was on the ship for the better part of a year, with no record of it.

29. Blind cat

Book version: Richard Parker goes blind. Pi also briefly loses his sight, then regains it.

Movie version: This doesn't happen.

30. Tiger talk

Book version: Pi has an extended hallucination in which he has a conversation with a a blind French man in a passing lifeboat, who he thinks is Richard Parker. Richard Parker then eats the imaginary French man. Pi also eats some of his remains.

Good or bad change: Bad. You would think we'd see a little more of Pi going crazy, if he was supposed to be on that boat for so long (227 days).

31. Fruit tree

Book version: On the carnivorous island, Pi pulls down 32 pieces of fruit, peeling each apart to find 32 human teeth: a complete set.

Movie version: Pi only opens one fruit and finds one tooth.

32. The insurance story

Book version: A transcript of Pi's entire conversation with the insurance assessors is provided, including their experiments to see whether bananas actually float. (They do.) Pi also steals most of their lunches, and talks about how much he loves chocolate.

Movie version: The story is abbreviated, and no one throws any bananas into water.

Good or bad change: Good that it's shortened, but bad that they don't see if bananas float. Why leave the people wondering?

This is in no way a definitive list - it's a monster of a book and a beast of a movie, and surely viewers and readers will notice new details on each viewing or reread. Did we miss any changes? Do you agree with our assessments? Add your own observations in the comments.

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This Is How The Life Of Pi Book Differs From The Movie

Suraj Sharma as Pi in Life of Pi

When Yann Martel's novel "Life of Pi" hit bookstores in 2001, it instantly generated buzz among readerly types, picking up accolades including the Man Booker Prize and the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature (via The Canadian Encyclopedia ). President Barack Obama later wrote the author a note to personally praise the book.

It was exactly the sort of publicity that would normally lead to a glossy Hollywood adaptation. Except that at the same time, everyone in Hollywood was certain that this book was "unfilmable" (via ).

In case it's still in your to-read pile (or never even got that far), the novel version of "Life of Pi" takes a long time contemplating philosophy and religion before it even gets to the boy-and-tiger-on-boat scenario. A completely literal adaptation would mean many scenes of grown Pi (Irrfan Khan) pondering his theories on life to the reporter (Rafe Spall, who was actually a last-minute actor replacement .) Which some people probably would've enjoyed: Irrfan Khan, who died in 2020 , was widely praised for his performance. But they wouldn't have outnumbered those who wanted to see the boy and tiger facing off on a boat.

However, not everyone was scared. Eventually, director Ang Lee — of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Brokeback Mountain" fame — teamed up with screenwriter David Magee (via IMDb ), who had written the screenplays for another tricky book adaptation ("Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day") and "Finding Neverland." It took 170 attempts over three-and-a-half years for Magee to come up with a draft Lee was satisfied with, per The Atlantic . Here's how the final movie differed from the book.

Richard Parker is a big reveal in the book

Towards the beginning of the book, when Pi refers to Richard Parker (King the tiger, per The Guardian ), we don't initially know that he's a tiger. Which makes us wonder why Pi is so wary of him. It also foreshadows the alternative story Pi offers the insurance company agents, in which the various animals are actually different people.

In the movie, we meet Richard Parker while he's still in the zoo when Pi's father (Adil Hussain) feeds him a live goat to teach Pi that animals are not just furry humans. This happens in the book, but with a different tiger. Obviously, this choice was made to condense the story to fit into a movie timeframe, and it doesn't exactly ruin the surprise: we all came to see the movie about the boy and tiger surviving on a boat, so guessing that Richard Parker is the name of a tiger isn't that hard.

Speaking of the other animals, in the book, Pi spends at least several days trapped on the boat with the injured zebra, the pacing hyena, and the sad orangutan, Orange Juice, as well as Richard Parker. This is all condensed into about a day in the movie, again to save time.

Pi is more methodical in the book

As the previous mention of philosophy and religion indicate, the Pi in the book is a deep guy. His inquisitive spirit is more academic than the slightly mischievous character played wonderfully by Suraj Sharma. (In case you were wondering what happened to the actor who played Pi , Sharma has gone on to other roles.) Book Pi actively investigates and adopts three different religions — Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity — at the same time, defying the expectations of his parents and local religious leaders. The Pi of the movie also does this, but in a shorter timeframe, and he stumbles into them rather than seeking them out. Book Pi also doesn't have time for such lighthearted things as romance, whereas Pi in the movie falls in love with a dancer named Anandi (Shravanthi Sainath).

Book Pi's scholarly nature is also sidelined when it comes to his movie self's approach to Richard Parker. In the movie, Pi's attempts to tame Richard Parker are not particularly successful and seem to come out of nowhere. In the book, Pi is much more methodical, basing his attempts to assert dominance by drawing on his experiences growing up in his family's zoo. He also devotes a sizeable chunk of time to thinking of ways he might be able to kill the large, hungry predator he's sharing a lifeboat with.

Despite reservations that "Life of Pi" could never be made into a movie, the adaptation translated the beautiful, haunting story in a way that brought certain aspects to life that were muted on the page, even as it had to sacrifice others. You might prefer the movie's stunning visuals to the novel's philosophical discussions, or vice versa, but it's also fair to say they were both successful in their own respective ways.

Comparing “Life of Pi” the Movie to “Life of Pi” the Novel: Adapting Book to Screen

I’d imagine the toughest feat for a writer would be that of adapting a novel into a screenplay. The two are such distinctly different animals in development, and yet in execution both must convey the same essence. In writing a screenplay based on a book, you are writing for two different kinds of audiences – those who have read the book and those who have never read the book – and to top it all off, the heart of the story must be captured in a very short amount of time.

I’ve seen a lot of books made into movies but none pulled off as almost-flawlessly (we’ll get to the “almost” part in a bit) as Life of Pi . Based on the amazing novel by Yann Martel, Ang Lee’s film (screenplay by David Magee) retells Pi’s story not only in visually stunning fashion but with the same witty candor and heartbreak as the original. But what makes the film an instant standout among adaptations is not its stunning visuals or its excellent script but its ability to tell the same story without sacrificing what makes it both a superb novel and a superb film.

Too many movies have made the mistake of falling into the category of a visual book . Having learned how to do both, I know that writing a screenplay and writing a novel is as different as night and day. A novel’s strengths could be a film’s biggest weakness, and what makes a killer movie makes no difference in how a book will stick with you even years after you’ve read it. Then again, film adaptations always run the risk of lacking the substance that made the original story such a winner in the first place – to the point where you’re thinking, Hey, where’d my book go?

So why exactly does Pi pull off this feat so flawlessly? Let’s take a look.

The structure of the story remains the same. Fans of books made into movies are usually preoccupied with the details when it comes to critiquing the film. I was like this with the Harry Potter movies when I was younger, especially when The Sorcerer’s Stone came out and I was all butt-hurt that my favorite line in the book didn’t really make it fully into the movie. But what really matters in film adaptations is not the details, it’s the essential structure of the story.

Life of Pi the novel was written in three parts – Part 1 exploring Pi’s background that lays the foundation for the story (hey, it isn’t called Life of Pi for nothing) – leaving Part 2 to relay the unfolding action for the story between Pi and Richard Parker – and Part 3 to conclude with the ending of the story as Pi washes up on shore. Life of Pi the movie followed the very same structure, right down to the Japanese men interviewing Pi at the end. The movie could just as easily have chopped out the first part and cut straight to the action and embellished – disappointing fans of the book – or it could have decided to get clever and put the Japanese men interviewing Pi at the beginning, instead putting the entire movie into “flashback mode” – disappointing movie-goers. But it didn’t. If a screenplay is faithful to the original structure of the novel, then the right details that are crucial to telling the story as a script, and as a movie, will fall into place (assuming, of course, you also have the best screenwriter for the project!).

The strongest elements are highlighted. Reflecting on Life of Pi the novel and Life of Pi the movie were ultimately the same experience for me, and you can’t often say that about a book made into a movie. The origin of Pi’s name – and Richard Parker’s, the name of the ship (Tsimtsum), Pi weeping over killing a fish for food, Pi’s “survival guide” narration, Pi commenting on Richard Parker unceremoniously abandoning him…. All those seemingly little moments are what give the story its heart and soul, and the movie included all of those essential moments without feeling like it was uncomfortably crammed into two whole hours.

The right moments are visually stunning. Okay, so I’ve said Life of Pi is visually stunning – but take into account it matters what is visually stunning, and Pi the movie gets the right what . A novel relies solely on the imagery the reader is able to conjure in their mind, but a lot more is at stake with a movie and even more so with a movie based on a book. The film not only has to be visually appealing for a film’s expectations, now it must be visually appealing on a level predetermined by the expectations of those who have read the book.

It can be a tough act to follow, and Life of Pi the movie follows beautifully in Life of Pi the novel’s footsteps. Before seeing the movie, I read that Life of Pi was director, Ang Lee’s first film incorporating 3D – and I have a huge beef with 3D special effects, they have to be done a certain way for me to warm up to them – and I have to say the balance was perfect. Effects are sometimes overdone to the point of the movie feeling unrealistic, and this was definitely not the case with Pi. Just like the book, it felt both fantastical and real – and from the fierce storm on the ship to the simplicity of shooting in India, the right moments for this story to be visually stunning as a film could not have been chosen more perfectly.

I didn’t even mention how incredible the casting was for young Pi. Gotta give it to Suraj Sharma for his dedication to the role, he gave one heck of a performance.

Okay, so why do I give Life of Pi the movie an “almost-flawless” rating? I do have a couple complaints with the film version, and I want to dissect not only why I have the complaints (what I feel went wrong) but why I believe writer, David Magee and director, Ang Lee made the choices they did in writing and executing the screenplay.

a) In the forward to Life of Pi the novel, author Yann Martel talks about how he came to hear the story in the first place – from the real Pi himself, while Martel was visiting India to write for a different novel set in Portugal. (This was also included as a separate narration in the actual book, scattered across various chapters throughout Pi’s story.) This same scenario is presented in Life of Pi the movie as well, with Rafe Spall playing the writer who comes to adult Pi to hear his miraculous story. But while for the book it did a wonderful job of acting as a set-up for, and accompaniment to Pi’s story, somehow in using it as a device in the film, it falls flat. Automatically the ending is given away, since we obviously know Pi survives his ordeal – which served the novel just fine, but a film with that intense of a storyline needs that suspense to really make it good . Do I think the film would have been better off without incorporating the writer (based on Yann Martel himself) coming to talk to adult Pi? Not necessarily. Those scenes spliced between the telling of Pi’s story served as a nice breather from the action, and like I mentioned earlier, it instilled a lot of that same heart that’s present in the book.

b) In the novel, the alternate, more “believable” story Pi offers up to the Japanese men that interview him in the end is just heartbreaking. It’s communicated mostly through dialogue, which again, worked for the book so I can see why it would be translated that way into the film version as well. But for the film, I would have liked to see the idea shown in a visual way, rather than just Pi fabricating this story solely through dialogue from a hospital bed. The scene just loses something and definitely fell short of my expectations. Even if just shown as a short, narrated scene, I feel something more like that would have made for a more powerful ending for the film.

I would guess that both of these choices were made for mostly creative reasons, and I applaud David Magee and Ang Lee for being as faithful to the book as possible. But unfortunately I feel the movie ended up lacking a bit because of them.

What did you think about Life of Pi the movie – as either a reader of the original book or as just a movie-goer – and what would you say makes a dynamite film adaptation?

Image credits: Film: Twentieth Century Fox Film Book: The Blist

Tanya Marcy is a writer, storyteller, and avid reader who loves advising writers and mentoring young creatives.

9 Big Differences Between The Life Of Pi Movie And Book

Life of Pi

Yann Martel’s Life of Pi follows the lengthy journey of a young man and a Bengal tiger as they traipse across the ocean in a lifeboat. Before director Ang Lee took up the mantle, many considered the book to be beautiful, but virtually unfilmable. If there is a will, there is a way, and Lee discerned very adeptly how Life of Pi needed to be told onscreen.

Lee’s version works because it gives us the chance to hear Pi’s story told from the mouth of an older, wiser version of the young religious believer, who plays a smaller role in the books. It works because it takes all of the visions readers have created in their heads while reading Life and Pi and makes those visions bigger, bolder, and brighter. It works because it streamlines a lengthy tale without making us feel as we are missing anything key to the narrative. As a film, Life of Pi is a visual masterpiece, but it isn’t better than the book.

Following are the 9 biggest changes I noticed in my screening of Life of Pi . Feel free to remark on any I may have missed.

There are many spoilers in the Life of Pi book to movie comparison. Do not jump in if you have not seen the film.

Life of Pi

Most of the lengthy intro in Martel’s book is shortened in the film. The tale Pi gives of his childhood is still one of changing his nickname, living in a zoo, and finding religion. However, many of his teachers and mentors (and even some of his zoo knowledge) are cut out of the narrative for the sake of maintaining the love and lessons Pi learns from his family.

life of pi book and movie comparison essay

Pi is old enough in the movie to have a love interest. In the film, Pi is too busy thinking about the girl he met in a dance class to even notice the troubles his father is facing with the zoo. This makes Pi’s travels away from his home and India far more of a painful separation.

life of pi book and movie comparison essay

The film shows Pi first coming to an understanding of religion from his mother, who is portrayed as far more religious in the film . She supports his quest to learn about different religions and seems to have a special place in her heart for her younger son. The closer relationship the two share in the film gives more meaning to the second tale Pi utters to the Japanese men who come to see him after he washes ashore.


Your Daily Blend of Entertainment News

life of pi book and movie comparison essay

Pi never really manages to tame Richard Parker. In Martel’s book, Pi uses his zoo knowledge and understanding of circus practices to mostly train the large adult Bengal tiger. In the movie, while the boy and the tiger maintain a wary distrust of one another, Pi never truly feels in control. The biggest moment that defines Richard Parker and Pi’s relationship is the tiger’s prusten noise—which signals non-aggression--and that moment is completely gone in the film.

life of pi book and movie comparison essay

There is a lot of suffering in Life of Pi and merely a few moments of beauty and glory--like in the lightning storm that appears in both the book and the film . However, Ang Lee’s vision of Pi’s journey is breathtaking, supplemented by moments of true beauty that—almost—make Pi’s journey worth it. The best example of a scene standing out far more for it’s beauty in the movie than the book is probably Pi’s introduction to the whale.

life of pi book and movie comparison essay

Turtles are never an easy catch in the film. Life of Pi earned a PG rating, and this means a good percentage of the suffering Pi endures is cut down or made to seem somewhat more tame. We aren’t forced to see as much of the hyenas antics when Pi first finds himself on the lifeboat. Later, while he and Richard Parker take down some fish, Pi doesn’t take down turtles to use their shells as shields or to dry their meat in the sun. There’s enough suffering on Pi’s end of the film that we don’t need to hear him daydream about sucking the marrow out of bones.

life of pi book and movie comparison essay

Pi does not meet another blind sailor along the journey. In fact, Pi never even goes blind. Instead, when Pi attempts to ‘talk’ with Richard Parker, Ang Lee uses the narrative space to show us Pi staring into the deep, black ocean in order to show us a philosophical journey reaching the depths of the universe, and showing the audience the relationship between fish and mammals, and even a memory of the sinking Tsimtsum.

life of pi book and movie comparison essay

Pi and Richard Parker only spend a day on the carnivorous island. In the book, Pi and Richard Parker linger on the island for a while longer. The horror factor is still there when Pi finds the human teeth embedded in the plant. However, for the sake of narrative flow, the boy and tiger do not spend so much time on the island and are not able to fully replenish themselves.

life of pi book and movie comparison essay

Pi relates the second tale to our author, and Lee uses that as a springboard to show the scene between the castaway and the two Japanese men who come to determine why the Tsimtsum sank. Ending with Pi and the author in Pi’s living room helps to bring the tale full circle. Pi and the author begin rehashing the journey together and they end the story together. It’s far more comfortable than simply tacking on Pi’s more earthly tale, as the book does.

Most of the changes made in the Life of Pi movie were put into practice in order to cut down on time and help the narrative to flow better (and maybe also to keep the rating at a family friendly PG). While most of the changes work within the confines of the film, viewers are missing the intimacy of the book. One of the greatest privileges of reading is being privy to Pi’s thoughts as a thinker, and there would have been no way to forge that communion onscreen. Instead, we get beautiful cinematography. It’s lovely, but it isn’t intimate.

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life of pi book and movie comparison essay

life of pi book and movie comparison essay

Yann Martel

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Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Yann Martel's Life of Pi . Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Life of Pi: Introduction

Life of pi: plot summary, life of pi: detailed summary & analysis, life of pi: themes, life of pi: quotes, life of pi: characters, life of pi: symbols, life of pi: theme wheel, brief biography of yann martel.

Life of Pi PDF

Historical Context of Life of Pi

Other books related to life of pi.

  • Full Title: Life of Pi
  • Where Written: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • When Published: 2001
  • Literary Period: Contemporary Fiction
  • Genre: Fiction, Magical Realism
  • Setting: Pondicherry, India, the Pacific Ocean, Mexico, and Toronto, Canada
  • Climax: Pi finds land
  • Antagonist: The hyena/French cook
  • Point of View: First person limited from both the “author” and the adult Pi

Extra Credit for Life of Pi

Richard Parker. Martel got the name “Richard Parker” from Edgar Allan Poe’s nautical novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. The name also appears in at least two other factual shipwreck accounts. Martel noticed the reoccurring “Richard Parkers” and felt that the name must be significant.

Zoo. The historical Pondicherry did have a zoo in 1977, but it lacked any tigers or anything larger than a deer.

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Home — Essay Samples — Literature — Book Review — Life of Pi: the Contrast Between Words and Visuals


Life of Pi: The Contrast Between Words and Visuals

  • Categories: Book Review Life of Pi Movie Review

About this sample


Words: 1187 |

Published: Apr 11, 2019

Words: 1187 | Pages: 3 | 6 min read

Works Cited

  • Martel, Y. (2001). Life of Pi. Canongate Books.
  • Lee, A. (Director). (2012). Life of Pi [Film]. 20th Century Fox.
  • McElroy, S. (2014). "Life of Pi: From Novel to Film." The Quintessential Guide to Film Adaptation, 161-172.
  • Kim, M. H. (2013). "The Art of Survival: Adaptation and Resilience in Life of Pi." Literature/Film Quarterly, 41(3), 208-222.
  • Chaudhuri, S. (2014). "Adaptation and its Discontents: Yann Martel's Life of Pi." Adaptation, 7(1), 54-69.
  • Camy, G. (2015). "Beyond The Text: Transmedial Strategies of Adaptation in Life of Pi." Enthymema, 14, 127-145.
  • Hollis, L. (2015). "Reality, Fantasy, and the Question of Adaptation: Life of Pi as Literature and Film." Comparative Literature Studies, 52(4), 770-795.
  • Serrano-Vicente, R. (2016). "Adapting 'The Unadaptable': Life of Pi from Novel to Film." In P. D. Pardo & R. Serrano-Vicente (Eds.), Adaptation and Cultural Appropriation: Literature, Film, and the Arts (pp. 115-130). Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
  • McNulty, J. (2018). "The Problem of Untranslatable Words: The Film Adaptation of Life of Pi." Adaptation, 11(1), 87-102.
  • Wagner, R. (2019). "Between Fact and Fiction: Narrative Strategies and Adaptation in Life of Pi." Comparative Literature and Culture, 21(3), 1-12.

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life of pi book and movie comparison essay


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