But what struck me most is what he chose to alter from the novel, and the reasons behind it, which I thought through for a few days. One difference between the book and movie is that the young Pi is given a first love/budding love interest in the early part of his life. This is wholly absent from the book, and at first I assumed it was to make the protagonist more likable or relatable to the audience (who doesn't appreciate a good love story thrown in?), but I think the main reason lies in his last line referring to his first love: "I remember everything from that last day, but I don't remember saying goodbye."
The adult Pi Patel feels that one of the most painful moments in life is having to let go without saying goodbye. This is in reference to his family -- who dies in a shipwreck without him being able to say goodbye, and also to Richard Parker the tiger, who leaves Pi without a backwards glance. Pi feels both of these botched farewells keenly. He feels that there is so much to be grateful for for his family, whom he never had a chance to say goodbye to. And he feels raw that Richard Parker left without a word to acknowledge all that they've been through. Even when retelling this story decades later, the adult Pi has tears in his eyes.
In the novel, Pi relates the exact words he would have said given the opportunity:
"That bungled goodbye hurts me to this day. I wish so much that I'd had one last look at him in the lifeboat, that I'd provoked him a little, so that I was on his mind. I wish I had said to him then -- yes, I know, to a tiger, but still -- I wish I had said, 'Richard Parker, it's over. We have survived. Can you believe it? I owe you more gratitude than I can express. I couldn't have done it without you. I would like to say it formally: Richard Parker, thank you. Thank you for saving my life. And now go where you must. You have known the confined freedom of a zoo most of your life; now you will know the free confinement of a jungle. I wish you all the best with it. Watch out for Man. He is not your friend. But I hope you will remember me as a friend. I will never forget you, that is certain. You will always be with me, in my heart. What is that hiss? Ah, our boat has touched sand. So farewell, Richard Parker, farewell. God be with you.'"
So the question is, does it matter? Does the fact that he was unable to say goodbye ruin the meaning of the relationship or the "point" of it? Not at all. Indeed at an earlier point in the movie, the adult Pi is asked what the meaning of a certain religious theorem or story means, and he asks back whether it's important that it has meaning or not.
The same could be asked of the whole story/movie. Is the story true? When we touch on the floating island near the end of the movie, a zoom-out shot shows that the island is shaped like Vishnu lying down -- the same Vishnu who lives and breathes in the stories that have populated Pi's mind and breath since he was a child. Is the shape of the island (which again was a choice by Ang Lee and not in the novel) an indication that the whole story is fabrication and an extension of Pi's mind? Or is it just a representation he gave as he told the story and meant to be symbolic?
The answer again is, does it matter? The question is not whether the island or the story is real or not, but what happened within the folds of the story. This is one reason that I think the movie is at odds with itself, because it is meant to be a story that makes one believe in God, and yet I think it operates better as a story without an end. The meaning is not in the meaning that we assign to it, but the wonder and beauty within it. Like the irrational number pi that has no end, which Pi writes without end on the school chalkboard at the beginning of the movie, life has no end. The movie argues that there is no outcome that will justify the meaning. The meaning is given through the events that occur, not through some arbitrary theme or moral that we assign to it.
In real life, we don't always get the chance to say goodbye. Those moments are few, and although it can be satisfying or cathartic to be able to say our last farewells, I don't think it negates the experience if you're robbed of the opportunity. And perhaps the experience loses meaning if we try searching for the meaning.
Regardless though, I think we often leave words unsaid because we're afraid or because we let them pass us by. Maybe we shouldn't let that happen. I'm hardly the right person to advocate this, because I often hold my words close...but little by little, perhaps I can let the words unfurl. Eventually. Or maybe not.