M. Night Shyamalan Quit A Film, To Avoid Spoiling The Twist
Before they settled on Ang Lee, the studio behind The Life Of Pi looked at a few different directors. Alfonso Cuarón was in talks for a while, as was Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the director of Amélie. The very first director they announced would helm the project was M. Night Shyamalan. The book was about a character from Pondicherry, India, which happened to be where Shyamalan was born, so he thought he was a good fit.
Then he dropped out. The reason, he'd later say, was that everyone at this time associated him with twists, to the point that when they watched a Shyamalan film, they spent the whole runtime trying to guess what the twist would be. When the movie has no twist, they end up disappointed.
The Life of Pi—and this is your last chance to turn away if you don't want it spoiled for you—does have a twist. And he figured that if you expect a twist going into it, you'll guess it immediately, which will ruin the reveal for you.
That's not the case with all stories. When you watch a mystery, you know there'll be a twist, and the fun is in trying to guess what it will be. But the twist in The Life of Pi is that most of what you see is untrue. It's a fanciful story that the narrator creates to cover up something horrible, and if you go into the story expecting a twist, well, you surely will guess too soon the reason behind all the dreamlike imagery.
Incidentally, the book and the movie treat the twist a bit differently. In both, we spend most of the story following the narrator as he shares a raft with a tiger. In both, he ends up explaining in a hospital that perhaps this was all untrue, and he briefly offers an alternate, more brutal story. In the book, he presents this alternate story casually, mocking his listeners for preferring something more realistic, and the people listening don't know what to make of it. In the movie, it's a dramatic and dead-serious reveal. In both, it's technically ambiguous which story is the true one, but only the book really gives you the slightest option of believing in the tiger—in the movie, the second story is a confession.
We don't know how Shyamalan would have handled the twist, if he went through with making the movie. But the best part is the fantasy section before that, and we're pretty sure he stood no chance of shooting that as well as Ang Lee ended up doing.
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For more Shyamalan twists, check out:
M. Night Shyamalan's Cameo Ruins The Twist Of The Village
The Happening Is A Secretly Brilliant Film (Really)
Unbreakable: Move The Twist To The Middle
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Top image: Gage Skidmore, 20th Century Studios