Life of Pi Movie: Religion, the Natural World, Stoicism

Image from wired.com

I’m afraid, book lovers, that this post will cover the film version of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi novel. I read the novel a few years ago, and would really love to read it again, but this post is largely in response to my cinema trip last week. However, I must say that I felt the film to be accurate to the text – always a good thing!

The film has been advertised as a work of such great attention to detail and beauty. Producers are become increasingly obsessed with visuals, what with the shutter speed of The Hobbit (you can’t escape hearing this) and the popularity of films in 3D. I watched Life of Pi in 2D due to my hatred of 3D glasses, and I have to say that it lived up to the hype. Below is a quick copy and paste from Wikipedia, if you are unfamiliar with the plot. I’ll warn you now – it’s concise.

Life of Pi is a 2012 American adventure drama film based on Yann Martel’s 2001 novel of the same name. The film is about a 16-year old boy named Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel, who suffers a shipwreck in which his family dies, and is stranded in the Pacific Ocean on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

Despite this minimalist summary, there are so many things to discuss about the film. However, I’ll limit my discussion here to just a few ideas, and I’m not going to mention the ending. Therefore, my post hopefully won’t become akin to a rambling essay. If you are interested in the real vs false plot question, I found this article interesting.

To begin with, Pi struggles with the concept of following just one religion. He is an accepting, loving child, and sees no reason why he cannot embrace Hinduism, Christianity and Islam equally. You cannot help but smile at the innocent idealism of a world with widespread acceptance and sharing of faith. Yet one must also question the perpetual question of morality: if Pi is such a great kid and believes in three religions, with three sets of gods to protect him, why does he suffer so greatly?

Perhaps he suffers in order to experience what he does: the sublime beauty of an unpolluted starry sky reflecting on the ocean, the friendship he forms with animals and nature, the time he spends contemplating the world, or more appropriately the universe, around him. Before the shipwreck, Pi is seen to be reading Notes From Underground by Dostoevsky and Albert Camus’ L’Étranger. If you are familiar with literature, which I imagine you are if you are reading my blog, you’ll probably be smiling at the chosen books; they are so associated with teenage angst and a search for identity and meaning. Although the shipwreck is an intensely traumatic experience – if it did in fact happen, of which I will say no more – it allows Pi to view his life with less confusion and need for explanation. Things happen, you cannot change them, and you have to find a way to live with what you’ve got (in Pi’s case, a tiger). As we are often reminded, Pi’s story is one that will “make you believe in God”, and, because of his suffering, he has gained a direction in life that eventually allows him to tell his story.

If the shipwreck had happened to the average teenage boy, I’m unsure he would have lasted very long. Pi displays perseverance, courage and, eventually, a stoic acceptance of what has happened to him and his family. When he realises that he can do nothing other than accept his situation, he focuses on training Richard Parker (the tiger), writing a journal between the lines of his survival manual, and improving his raft. I found the following diagram very appropriate and amusing:

To be honest, Pi couldn’t deal with his predicament any better. He didn’t have a copy of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations on hand, regrettably, but it sounds like he did. For instance, on watching the stars above him whilst alone in the ocean with a tiger, the following phrase from Meditations comes to mind:

“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”

After effectively hitting rock bottom, Pi accepts the power of the omnipotent guy in the sky, and states aloud that he isn’t scared of death. This is rather like,

“Despise not death, but welcome it, for nature wills it like all else.”

I could say a lot more, and I am sure that I will go on to contemplate the film a great deal. Yet I’ve come to believe that, to Pi, religion is not bound to a name or a God. It is more a connection to the wider whole, be it the ocean, flying fish, or the night sky, alongside an intense feeling of acceptance. Pi remains a part of the world around him, regardless of his solitude, and he doesn’t lose touch with the spiritual world. Perhaps this is why his story will “make you believe in God”, although not a typical, individual concept of a God. Hmm, so much to think about.

Lucy
It's good to meet you! I started Tolstoy Therapy back in 2012 to share my healing journey through anxiety and PTSD with books. I also climb mountains, go on solo adventures, and write over at livewildly.co.