"The hard part was making it mainstream." Ang Lee on his Family Adventure THE LIFE OF PIE

The Cosmos at Seat

Ang Lee has a gift for putting philosophical subjects into mainstream films. In his newest, the highly anticipated Life of Pi, an Indian teenager scrambles for a religion to moor him, but when his family is forced to leave their native India and the boat that takes them capsizes, Pi (Suraj Sharma) is trapped on a lifeboat with a tiger for nearly a year. The book, a bestseller and winner of multiple awards, has had such high circulation it’s become a commonplace on high school reading lists. And what a tidy metaphor it is—the spiritual seeker is never more at sea than without dogma to guide him—but if you ask Ang Lee, he’ll tell you, “If the film’s a metaphor, I shouldn’t tell you anything about it. Religion here is more of a vehicle."

An adult Pi (Irrfan Khan) retells his story to a writer (Rafe Spall playing a surrogate for novelist Yann Martel). The novelist boasts “his story could make you believe in God.” Hearing that makes you understand why Lee was assigned the job—and why people were so excited about it. Ironically, Lee disputes this: “Nobody can watch the movie, read a book and start believing God. The big challenge was making this a mainstream movie: to give people hope and faith because that’s very important to us.”

But the story of a teenager and his survival alongside a wild tiger is incredible, perhaps unbelievable. Lee embraces the floating uncertainty: later in the story, when Pi is found and tells his story to insurance men, he concocts a more believable story (lie) for them, effectively suggesting the story of the tiger is a parable. Like they say: Maybe Satan didn’t appear to Eve as a Snake, maybe that’s just a metparhor. Lee says “There’s a dark part: Pi’s frustration, anger, confusion. And there’s a second story and that’s the provocative part. I think they [both stories] coexist in the movie, but that depends on how you take it. You can believe in one story or the other, or parts of either, but my job is to provide chances for everybody, not just for the faithful or the unfaithful. For younger kids who want the adventure story or people looking for the philosophical contemplation or discussion, they can all do that. I don’t know if I reached there but that’s certainly is the goal of every movie I’ve made.”

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