I was surprised and disappointed by Marjorie Baumgarten’s superficial review of Life of Pi
in the Nov. 23 Film Listings section. It is hard to imagine that Ms. Baumgarten took the time to understand the book by Yann Martel on which the film is based, given that she seemed to completely miss the allegory which sits at the heart of this novel. Perhaps my 13-year-old son should explain it to her; last year he wrote an eighth grade English paper on the book. When Ms. Baumgarten has won the Man Booker Prize – the British equivalent of the National Book Award – she might be in more of a position to use phrases such as “fuzzy theological concerns” in regards to the story.
Without these “fuzzy theological concerns”, the central tension of the story – expressed in everything from the lead characters name (Pi) to the interplay of the physicality of the natural world versus its wonder and magic – is totally lost. Perhaps Mr. Martel’s central thesis, that science and religion are important but different narrative traditions which can both be valuable in different ways in helping someone understand the world, is beneath her consideration. One is left wondering if perhaps Ms. Baumgarten is simply uncomfortable discussing or considering God or religion in any context that does not want to use it as a punch line.
Ang Lee had a difficult task in taking this extraordinary novel and adapting it to film. There are decisions regarding the narrative flow of the film – the decision to concentrate more on Pi’s family than his religious instructors would be one example – with which one could take issue. However, Ms. Baumgarten does not seem up to that task. I can imagine her review of The Old Man and the Sea
would criticize the 1958 movie for not simply concentrating on the excellent fishing yarn.