Life of Pi is an incredibly beautiful film directed by Ang Lee. It is the story of a young man, Pi, growing up in India and surviving a shipwreck on the way to North America in the open ocean with a boat full of animals, the most problematic being a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
As with all great stories, there are layers of meaning to the movie. Pi grows up in India and is influenced by three major religions – Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. He spends the majority of the first act of the film exploring these three faiths. There are some great lines and even better scenes during this stretch as he tries to figure out who God is. My favorite scenes start when he meets Christ in the mountains and at one point Pi exclaims – Christianity makes no sense to me.
Ultimately, Pi takes us on a comical but disturbing trip of merging the three faiths, picking and choosing what he likes and understands. It’s the classic ‘buffet’ approach to life. While Ang Lee and the author may have meant this to be respectful, it actually is the exact opposite. Instead of honoring them all, it trivializes them all. It’s not fair to each of the faith systems, it’s not an intellectually fair or honest way to live.
This is a deep film with lots to discuss. Pi’s dad is the rationalist, humanist perspective and he is right on so many levels. If you believe everything – you believe nothing. Start with reason. Religion is darkness. Can’t tame a tiger whose instinct is to kill you. These are all the pearls of wisdom Pi hears from his father.
Of course, the rest of the story is Pi doing the opposite of what his dad had told him. That is a part of the film that leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
The bulk of the movie is on a lifeboat. There is a wounded zebra, a hyena, OJ – the orangutan and Richard Parker – the Bengal tiger all along for the ride with Pi. I didn’t catch this at first but it’s telling that only two of these animals have names – something that will be important later on in the story.
The hyena eventually eats the Zebra. OJ fights with the hyena, the hyena retaliate and kills OJ. Richard Parker kills the hyena – leaving Pi and Richard Parker in the boat for the rest of the movie to learn how to survive the elements and each other.
The twist at the end is when Pi tells us that each animal represented a person and we get to choose which is the better story. “And so it is with God” Pi tells us – we can pick which story to believe about God.
Life of Pi is visually stunning. It’s beautifully filmed and there are deep discussions to be had because of this film. It’s ‘safe’ for the family as well.
Having said all of that – the film disappointed me a bit in how fact/truth seems to be of secondary importance when it comes to choosing what we believe about God. Ironically, it’s Christianity – much more so than any other religion – that falls apart without the facts. But that’s another post for another time.