Many of us have seen “Life of Pi”: an Indian kid is saved by luck while his parent’s ship goes down in a storm, only to end up sharing his lifeboat with a menagerie of zoo animals. One by one the animals are eaten or ejected, leaving Pi and an amazingly ferocious Bengal tiger. Soon they develop an uneasy coexistence and in the end (off the coast of Mexico) they both end their voyage very much alive. Dreamlike interludes and surreal but beautiful images suggest altered consciousness during the telling.
That’s the story we spend 95% of the movie viewing, but at the end Pi is forced to retell the story to investigators. In this version he is on the lifeboat as before, without animals, but forced to watch his mother killed by the ship’s cook and finally ends up killing the cook himself. The viewer is asked to wonder if the animal characters were stand-ins for the humans in the second version. We had to choose the more likely version and also to answer questions about the existence of God/faith as a side issue to which version we choose.
Despite the confusing ending the cinematography and special effects are dazzling, since the tiger is entirely computer generated. Claymation it ain’t. What does this have to do with our neck of the woods here in Lamoine, Maine?
Our own Steven Callahan was a consultant for this movie, his credentials are why. Steven spent 76 days in an inflatable life raft adrift in the North Atlantic 30 years ago after a probable whale collision sank his boat. He knows about catching and eating raw fish, dealing with storms and keeping his wits. In 2002 he wrote a book about it called Adrift, Seventy-six Days Lost at Sea, a New York Times best seller.
Steven lives on the east side of Lamoine, near the Skillings river and is a Naval architect. The author of Life of Pi, Yann Martel and the film director Ang Lee, who would soon begin shooting the film of the same name, paid Callahan a visit in 2009. They went sailing, spent some time picking his brain and returned to Taiwan to start shooting. But before long they invited him to help with the movie. Steve flew to Taiwan in 2010 and expected to sit in the back and answer a few questions about obscure details, but instead became a major player in the production. As the Bangor Daily News article says,
…he ended up spending long hours on the set working closely with the film crew. He helped to craft props, monitor the operation of a giant wave tank built especially for the film, and advised the film’s star, Suraj Sharma, on the mindset and physical challenges of being adrift at sea.
“I didn’t have a clue,” Callahan said of the workload he would assume. “I got sucked in more and more.”
Life of Pi received the Oscar award for Best Picture in 3013, no doubt some of this belongs to Lamoiner Steven Callahan. I’m always amazed at the talented people within a stone’s throw of SeaCat’s Rest, I wish I were one of them. About the biggest challenge I have is occasionally sharing my electric boat with an unbanded lobster.