The film, an international hit that's up for 11 Oscars, tells two seemingly contradictory tales. But director Ang Lee says the world had far more than two interpretations.
It's one thing for a director to film an "unfilmable" novel; it's another for audiences to actually watch it. That's one astonishing thing about Ang Lee's Life of Pi: The movie, which immerses viewers in a visually stunning story and then (spoiler alert!) questions the veracity of that story, is an international box-office success, grossing more than half a billion dollars off of a $120-million production budget.
Part of that success, though, may have well come from the many ways that the film can be interpreted. An adaptation of Yann Martel's mind-bending 2001 novel about a teenager who spends 227 days on a raft with only a tiger for company, Pi has seen a wide array of responses—the nature of which, Lee says, have to an extent differed from culture to culture.
Ahead of this weekend's Oscars, where Pi will compete for 11 awards including Best Picture and Best Director, I spoke with Lee about the movie's reception abroad.
Ang Lee: To give some background, the movie, adapted from the book, questions you at the end. It challenges what you've just seen and it tells you a grim second story. You scratch your head. When I read the book 10 years ago, people said "that's unfilmable." To me, we always find ways to make movies, but that ending was fundamentally challenging to filmmakers and film viewers. It's unusual for a movie. Usually a movie flows in a certain pattern, a certain track, and goes with certain rules of genre. You've been taken care of because the images are very demanding and your focus is demanded. More so than reading books—a book is words and symbols, you do indirect imaginations. But movies are photo-realistic images enlarged and imposed right at you. For two hours you're sitting there. You have to be riveted.