The Writer: You're a Hindu Catholic?When I entered the theater I knew virtually nothing about the movie, except that there was something about a boy on a raft with a tiger. As it turns out, that is all I needed to know for this astonishing, thought provoking movie.
Pi: We get to feel guilty before hundreds of gods.
Pi (Suraj Sharma) is a sixteen-year-old Indian boy, who survives a shipwreck only to find himself adrift on a lifeboat with a 450 pound, ferocious Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker. Pi's intelligence and ingenuity are stretched to the limit in surviving on the open seas while figuring out how to coexist with a tiger who is getting hungrier every day.
This story is told by the middle-aged Pi (Irrfan Khan) to an aspiring writer (Rafe Spall) who has been told that Pi's story is worthy of a book. He also has been told, "you had a story that would make me believe in God" which is not quite tossed out as a challenge, although he hastens to add that he does not believe in God. This framework provides a neat parallel to the story Pi tells, which begins with young Pi's constant search for God as he grows from a little boy to a teenager.
Obviously we know that Pi survives the shipwreck because he is telling the story. However that soon becomes forgotten as we are swept up in Pi's struggles. Wound around and through this are amazing images of the world all around him. Using 3-D technology, we are shown vertical views from the bottom of the ocean to the heavens above, with all the inhabitants in between. These views through ultra-clear water add to the wonder and mystical tone of the entire story, as Pi's despair and hope alternate while he surrenders himself to God's will.
Meanwhile, viewers wonder what in this tale will be compelling enough to convince the writer to suddenly believe in God. The answer to that question is one that kept us thinking and discussing the movie the rest of the evening and the day after.
I was really surprised to find a movie with such emphasis on faith and God from such a famous director. I suppose that shows that it really is revolutionary these days to have faith. As I watched, I kept thinking of the stories of Job and Jonah from the Old Testament. This story is a modern version of those tales because it is an examination of modern attitudes to faith, free will, and our response to God. Kudos to Ang Lee for providing an incredible adventure story that didn't soft pedal the religious elements of the book from which it was derived.
PG rating on this movie and I'd say that as long as your kid is ok with animals acting like animals (nature red in tooth and claw), then you're good to go.
The key to the movie, and especially to the puzzling dual story solution given at the end, is the family dinner when Pi's father talks about the need to be rational. Pi's mother says that he is right if one wants to know the truth about the outside world. However, she adds, faith is good for knowing the truth about what is inside you.
This duality is continued through elements like Pi's name. Piscine is named for the French swimming pool his uncle loved because it was full of such clear water. That name shows Pi's connection to the natural world and his ability to look through the depths for what is really there.
His shortened name, for the number Pi, shows a more rational side, but also Pi is an "irrational number" as the narrator told us ... which made me think that pi is actually a stunningly good way to refute people who want to solely believe in facts, without considering that "truth" comes in many ways. The idea that a number just keeps going and can't be "solved" is in itself a sort of refutation of those who want everything nailed down. Do you chop it off at a few decimal places or do you let the numbers keep spinning out and keep searching the bottomless well for truth?
This also demonstrates Pi's intelligence and that he understands how others think and how to influence them. As well, we are shown he is well versed in the natural world when we see his father teach him with the tiger and the goat.
These elements raise the possibility that Pi's "other story" told to the Japanese investigators is completely fabricated to tell them what makes sense to modern ears and will fit into a report.
In the end, we are left with a new version of "The Lady or the Tiger?"
Either story may be true or false. The interpretation we resonate with is an indicator of our own souls.
The Life of Pi is much like the Old Testament, full of stories of daring and danger which do not make sense to our modern souls which like to weigh everything against concrete, understandable scientific measures. We are ready to call such tales Myth, but does our interpretation see the whole story? We accept the Big Bang, measurable echoes of which still linger, if we know what to listen for. However, Genesis says that God spoke the universe into being.
Creation begins with sound in both cases; one is measurable by science, one by the human heart who looks deeper, is willing to be vulnerable, and who is willing to chance all on God's love. Neither negates the other although there are those who will choose one and call the other false.
As we are reminded, none of us knows why the ship sank (or how the universe began). All we know is what happened afterward from our own vantage point.
Such is the story of Pi. It is not about what you choose to believe, as much as it is about where one finds Truth. Much in the same way that Genesis is a story of faith and not about the Big Bang, we can hold that both stories are true or that only one is. Which one do you choose?