Ang Lee's interpretation of Yann Martel's novel, Life of Pi opened this week at our local theatre. Pi has been one of my favorites both as a personal read and as a novel for classroom study ever since it first came out back in 2001. While much of the buzz around this story centers around Pi's relationship with the tiger, Richard Parker, the novel goes much deeper than that, exploring themes of spirituality, courage, survival, and the value and meaning of life. Its question of which is the better story, always gets students talking.
As a rule, I don't like film adaptations of great books. By their very nature, motion pictures offer a limited vision that illustrates a director's interpretation of the story. Such interpretations are often at odds with the version I imagined in my own reading. Lilly O'donell describes just such a point of view eloquently in her recent article Ang Lee's Visual Splendor Will not Live Up to the Book. Ms. O'donnell may be in the minority however. Students in my English class are keenly anticipating movie treatments of some of their favorite titles including The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.
Movies undoubtedly have the ability to generate interest and turn young readers on to a title or author. Film adaptations of books like The Hunger Games, The Hobbit, and Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows have, or will soon have, thousands of young readers either checking to see if the film has been loyal to a beloved text or being introduced to new and exciting worlds only a turn of a page away.
So whether one is a printed word purist, or an advocate for using more modern media to broaden student horizons, anything that gets students reading must have an upside. Life of Pi was just one of more than half a dozen titles available to students in our lit circle unit. Having the movie come to town inspired many to take on, and enjoy, this challenging but ultimately rewarding read. Whether they like the film or not remains to be seen, but even if they don't, their interest was piqued, and they are better read now than when they entered the class! (And as Pi might have asked "isn't that the better story?")