I watched Life of Pi last night, and I rewatched parts of it this morning. Life of Pi was a reward-winning movie that was released in 2012, and it is based on a 2001 book by Yann Martel. It is about Pi, an Indian (from India) whose dad owns a zoo. Pi as a child explores different religions—-the gods of India, Christianity, and Islam. Pi admires the heroism of Indian gods, along with Vishnu’s cosmic significance, but he is also drawn to the love of the Christian God (though he says that the doctrine of Jesus taking the punishment for people’s sins initially did not make sense to him), and the sense of holy space within Islam. Pi’s father is a rationalist who is skeptical about religion, yet he is okay with Pi adopting a belief system that he (the father) does not share, just so long as Pi chooses one belief system rather than adhering to multiple religions. Pi’s mother was disowned by her parents for marring someone of whom they disapproved, and Pi narrates that her devotion to Hinduism was a way for her to remain attached to her Indian heritage. When the mother speaks for herself in the movie, however, she says that science is about what’s “out there,” whereas religion is about what’s “in here” (the heart). The main reason that I liked this movie was that it was about religious exploration. I’m interested in stories that explore what people believe and why, and what draws people to certain belief systems.
Pi and his family have to leave India, and they’re taking the zoo animals with them. The ship has a serious accident, which takes the lives of Pi’s family, and the outcome is that Pi is on a little boat in the middle of the sea, with a ferocious tiger named Richard Parker. Pi is trying to survive with the tiger on board, and he eventually develops compassion for the tiger and saves him from drowning. Pi finds that the tiger is keeping him alive by making him afraid, and also by giving him someone to care for. Pi is sad when the tiger leaves him without looking back, or giving some indication of saying “good bye.” When Pi saved the tiger from drowning, I had some compassion for the tiger, since the tiger reminded me of my own cats. At the same time, I said when I was watching that scene that I would have let the tiger drown, since the tiger was threatening Pi’s life and peace of mind. My statement was not well received by my Mom and her husband, and even one of our cats, Figaro, had something to say about my remark! In any case, I came to respect Pi’s relationship with the tiger, and the scene in which Pi was petting the tiger’s head while the tiger was sick was sweet (see the trailer for a snippet of that scene).
At the end of the movie, we’re left in doubt about whether Pi’s story about the tiger is true, or if instead something else happened. The movie seemed to be going in a postmodern direction (if it hadn’t already), and my Mom is better at understanding postmodernism than I am. I was scratching my head, wondering if the tiger story actually happened (within the narrative of the movie, of course). But the movie appeared to be asking which story the hearer wants to accept, the more fantastic one, or the less fantastic one. Was the tiger story an allegory? I don’t know. While postmodern movies make me scratch my head, at times, their postmodernism does gives the movies a certain degree of depth, which I happen to like.