Tigers By the Tale

IT'S A STORY that promises to make you believe in God.

A boy, shipwrecked on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger, repeatedly cheats death and eventually discovers his own self. It's a typical coming-of-age tale, really—except for the whole tiger part.

Life of Pi centers on Pi Patel, the son of a zookeeper, who grows up grasping to understand God. His open heart and willingness to learn lead him from Hinduism to Christianity to Islam. While stranded at sea along with a few escaped zoo animals as company, he continues to explore the meaning of God as he's thrust into dramatic—and at times inconceivable—situations.

Anyone who has read Yann Martel's best-selling book can understand how near impossible it seems to adapt the larger-than-life story into a film—none more so than the person who did just that, screenwriter David Magee. The largest chunk of Pi's journey is a solitary one, save the aforementioned Bengal tiger (named Richard Parker).

In an interview with Sojourners, Magee said he wrote the scenes without any lines for Pi at all, only inserting them where necessary after the fact.

"We didn't want to have some strange conversations with the tiger that he would never have," Magee said.

To work out other ways to move along the story, the filmmakers met with Steven Callahan, an actual survivor of a shipwreck who spent 76 days at sea.

"While he was on his journey, [he] wrote in the margins of a little notebook that he had with a pencil in the tiniest lettering he could, and he tried to keep track of his thoughts and his observations in order to keep himself from going insane," Magee said.

Magee did the same thing in the film and used Pi's journal entries, jotted in the margins of his survival manual, to delve into the character's inner dialogue. Through the written word and the slow dissolving of his one pencil, the days and nights pass as Pi becomes ever more weary.

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