Believing in the Story

Let me tell you A Story

Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” 2012 is also bookended by a narrator, who also is a character within the story, and describes a fantastical, surreal adventure which captures the imagination.

This film does not strive to display artificiality, but tempts you to believe in it, treading the line between naturalistic and theatrical treatment.

A bit about the Narrative

“Life of Pi” was adapted from Yann Martel’s novel of the same name. The narrator, Pi, is also the main character in a film which utilises a framing story, flashbacks and voiceover.

The narrative aims to leave the audience with the greatest question: Was it all real or not?

Atmospheric Realism

There is nothing realistic about the setting, which in itself is a smorgasbord of cool visual effects including the tiger.

However, realism is prevalent in “the psychological and emotional accuracy” (Corrigan and White 70) of Pi as a survivor after a shipwreck. The reality of his struggle is present in the costuming (the slow degradation of his clothes), depiction of Pi’s body (his starvation and dehydration), and acting.

The psychological and emotional verisimilitude contrasts the dazzling special effects which connote wonder and fantasy with its incredible sets, bold colours and illuminations.

Events such as this are what remove the narrative from realism into the fantastical:

“Frontal lighting, sidelighting, underlighting and top lighting are used to illuminate the subject from different directions in order to draw out features or create specific atmospheres around the subject.” (Corrigan and White 82) source:

The Tiger

As a part of creating an atmosphere of realism, the filmmakers aimed to create an image which felt like a tiger within the reality of the film. What they set out to achieve was to make the tiger “as uncomfortable as Pi would be,” (Hogg, Westenhofer and Rocheron) as it discovers itself surrounded by water.

CGI was used to have the multiple animals interact with each other in a way which emulated Pi’s story and the true events of his shipwrecking. In addition, the CGI within the setting of the ocean and sky are sympathetic to the events and emotions of Pi. The imagery is meant to connote to the audience Pi’s emotions. For example, there is a moment in the film where the sea is calm and the clouds open up to reveal a setting of great beauty together with desolation and loneliness. More commentary on the visual effects can be found at Flickering


With voiceover, it is quite clear the audience is being told a story. The subjective voiceover of an older Pi also organizes the events of the film, posing the psychological question of the film. It reveals the necessity of the creation of the story as a way of dealing with the harsh reality of being set adrift.

“So which story do you prefer?” –Adult Pi (Khan, Irrfan)

In this case, voiceover is meant to communicate the message of the film. It also depicts the constructed, metaphorical nature of the story.

“Step Four: Disregard steps one through three.” –Pi Patel (Sharma, Suraj)

The voiceover of young Pi Patel provides a subjective view into his inner thoughts and is meant partly to add humour but also for insight into his experience and realism of events as the protagonist feels them.

Real or Not?

The use of a narrator encourages the belief in the unlikelihood of the story told and Lee adds to this by creating realism. This film is also contemporary in the way it creates an empathetic link between Pi and the audience, as the audience gains more insight into Pi’s experience, the more it fosters belief in the fantastical.

Works Cited

Corrigan, Timothy and Patricia White. The Film Experience: An Introduction. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s., 2012.

Hogg, Trevor, Bill Westenhofer and Guillaume Rocheron. Flickering Myth. 24 February 2013. online. 26 April 2015.

Life of Pi. Dir. Ang Lee. Perf. Suraj Sharma and Irrfan Khan. 2012. Film.



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