Life_of_Pi_2012_Poster.jpg

What is the True Meaning of “Life of Pi”?

Life of Pi is a feast for the eyes. The imagery is fantastic, and the special effects amazing. Oscar material, indeed!

Based on the best-selling novel by Yann Martel, and directed by Ang Lee,  Life of Pi is a magical adventure story centering on Pi Patel, the precocious son of a zoo keeper.

Dwellers in Pondicherry, India, the family decides to move to Canada, hitching a ride on a huge Japanese freighter. After a s…

  1. DocJay

    I read the book when it came out. I very much enjoyed the movie and consider it quite Oscar worthy. I thought at the time that the tiger represented violence and aggression to an inherently non violent spiritual person who needed those qualities to survive. I suppose that is simplistic. The not looking back meant that part of who he was as a person would be hidden and not incorporated in to his existence. The sadness I interpreted to mean that he would never be whole even though the missing part is unsavory.

  2. Larry Koler

    Thanks for starting this post, Red. I meant to do this more detailed discussion about this time of the month so as not to spoil it for people to see it in the theater without too many preconceptions. 

    You fail to point out that there is one additional person in the first story as compared to the 2nd. The additional person is the part of the PI that comes to the fore when his mother is killed: the tiger. The reason that he is extra is because PI is split in two to let his animal out. Richard Parker is the fierce part of PI, his Mr. Hyde. This part of each one of us is usually quiescent unless something forces it out of us. 

    It’s not always a tiger which is lurking underneath each person. PI was an extraordinary individual.

  3. Red Feline
    DocJay: …  I thought at the time that the tiger represented violence and aggression to an inherently non violent spiritual person who needed those qualities to survive. I suppose that is simplistic. The not looking back meant that part of who he was as a person would be hidden and not incorporated in to his existence. The sadness I interpreted to mean that he would never be whole even though the missing part is unsavory. · 0 minutes ago

    I like your interpretation of the tiger, DJ. Makes a lot of sense to me. I particularly like your idea of what the not looking back means. I remember he was heart-broken because the tiger left. He also had said that the tiger was what had kept him alive. Perhaps he realized that he loved that part of himself, because it has just struck me, remember he was fascinated by the real tiger. He was going to have to leave it behind. 

    That is the thing about this kind of story, we each bring our own interpretation, and each is valid. Isn’t it fun! 

  4. Red Feline
    Larry Koler: Thanks for starting this post, Red. I meant to do this more detailed discussion about this time of the month so as not to spoil it for people to see it in the theater without too many preconceptions. 

    You fail to point out that there is one additional person in the first story as compared to the 2nd. The additional person is the part of the PI that comes to the fore when his mother is killed: the tiger. The reason that he is extra is because PI is split in two to let his animal out. Richard Parker is the fierce part of PI, his Mr. Hyde. This part of each one of us is usually quiescent unless something forces it out of us. 

    It’s not always a tiger which is lurking underneath each person. PI was an extraordinary individual. · 14 minutes ago

    Pi certainly was extraordinary as he survived what would have killed a more ordinary person. The tiger could be called his alter ego, and, as you say, it was the strength of his inner tiger that kept Pi alive, helping him kill the hyena/cook, and eat him to survive.

  5. I haven’t read the book or seen the movie for context, however it strikes me the message of the Tiger (at least) could be one that I believe all nature worshippers need to hear. I’ve been thinking about this lately because we were given a book, with a letter enclosed, written by a modern American Indian, concerning ‘Grandmother Nature’ (usually Mother Nature).

    Mother Nature is beautiful but amoral. She is out to kill everything and everyone and succeeds almost 100% of the time- it’s nothing personal. It is the religion of death. People refer to it as the Circle of Life, but it should be called the Circle of Death. In other words, it’s nothing personal to the tiger. Pantheistic religions tend to be the most cruel.

    Most worshippers of Mother Nature are Darwinists and cannot seem to comprehend what this means in the real world and end up attributing some kind of morality to nature- see the Atheists in Church thread for example.

  6. Red Feline

    502px-Yann_martel_2007-10-25_Seattle_WA_USA.jpg

    Western Chauvinist: …  I’m still struggling with is the theology.

    Pi tells the writer that he’s going to “prove God.” His dabbling in bits of all the religions only impressed me as innocently (ignorantly?) multiculti, but what does the story of Pi teach us about God? 

    Such a good question, WC!

    Yann Martel was born in Spain to French-Canadian parents. His father was a diplomat, and Jann lived and was educated in many countries. He then chose to live in the Middle East and India, studying the different religious systems. His writings obviously come out of this background.

    Having studied comparative religion all my life too, I can understand where Yann is coming from in his thinking. Pi was a Hindu, and as such could embrace all other religious systems as part of the greater whole. To Pi, the Divine Spirit pervades everything, including himself, so the tiger projection of his fiercer side would be part of the Life Spirit pervading him, and succouring him.

    One of the greatest strengths of Hinduism is that it accepts the world as it is, and includes everything within one world vision as part of the Divine Spirit. 

  7. Western Chauvinist

    I’m so glad you all decided to talk about this. It’s been bugging me ever since I saw the movie (I haven’t read the book). You’ve been very helpful interpreting the mythical narrative versus the actual story, but what I’m still struggling with is the theology.

    Pi tells the writer that he’s going to “prove God.” His dabbling in bits of all the religions only impressed me as innocently (ignorantly?) multiculti, but what does the story of Pi teach us about God? I don’t get it. Maybe I’m just too chauvinistic about being a westerner. Any thoughts?

  8. Red Feline
    Larry Koler: -continued from #6-  … 

    The most important thing to be told is that it was the appearance of the tiger that was his salvation. The author has Pi say this several times. This experience left a man intact psychologically instead of destroyed. The tiger saves him. 

    Wonderfully put, Larry! This illustrates that this story, told from a spiritual point of view rather than that of any one religious point of view, can resonate with Christians from deep within the Christian world.

    One of the messages is that we each have within us a tiger, whom we have to learn to control, but who helps us surmount the challenges that life throws our way.

  9. Red Feline
    DocJay: WC, his survival was multifaceted. First he had to release his inner animal but all along he knew somehow he was protected by his faith in God. The kid found God in all faiths rather than in exclusivity as I do. There’s a beauty in that even if it places Christ in a lesser status by far. I believe he was interested in showing this stranger a miracle which he attributed to God. In his belief system it makes sense as he saw God everywhere around him as well. · 9 hours ago

    Put so perfectly, DJ! This is how I experience my own faith in the Divine Spirit.

    I do have to say that neither Pi, nor I, would place Christ in a lesser position. Personally, I love the Christ figure as it reminds me of the power of remorse and repentance, loving forgiveness, in human affairs, never mind in the world of the divine. Wonderful example!  

  10. Red Feline
    PracticalMary: I haven’t read the book or seen the movie for context, however it strikes me the message of the Tiger (at least) could be one that I believe all nature worshippers need to hear. 

    Mother Nature is beautiful but amoral. She is out to kill everything and everyone and succeeds almost 100% of the time- it’s nothing personal. It is the religion of death. 

    And Death is good, and kind, Mary! Just think if nothing were ever to die. What a mess would pile up, and we would all be trapped in it for ever. Yuck! I am almost fanatically tidy and clean, so this would be my idea of Hell. 

    When it comes my time to “shuffle off this mortal coil” I plan to summon my tiger and “go off into the sunset” excited to experience the greatest adventure of all of life. :-)

  11. Larry Koler
    Red Feline

    Larry Koler: -continued from #6-  … 

    The most important thing to be told is that it was the appearance of the tiger that was his salvation. The author has Pi say this several times. This experience left a man intact psychologically instead of destroyed. The tiger saves him. 

    Wonderfully put, Larry! This illustrates that this story, told from a spiritual point of view rather than that of any one religious point of view, can resonate with Christians from deep within the Christian world.

    One of the messages is that we each have within us a tiger, whom we have to learn to control, but who helps us surmount the challenges that life throws our way. 

    It is very interesting that C.S. Lewis chose to represent the Christ with a Lion in his Narnia series. 

  12. DocJay

    What did Pi say to the hot dog vendor? Make me one with everything.

  13. Fredösphere
    Western Chauvinist: Pi tells the writer that he’s going to “prove God.” His dabbling in bits of all the religions only impressed me as innocently (ignorantly?) multiculti, but what does the story of Pi teach us about God? I don’t get it. Maybe I’m just too chauvinistic about being a westerner. Any thoughts? · 13 hours ago

    Edited 13 hours ago

    I don’t get it either.

    Beyond that, I really liked the idea of the Tiger, etc., and the explanations here. However, the part of the movie I found confusing and downright offensive was the moment near the end: the look of beatific peace on the face of the writer when accepting the idea of religion being lies we tell ourselves in order to cope. Maaaaybe that’s what they are, but why should we like it?

    Or did I misinterpret that scene?

  14. Western Chauvinist

    Thanks for all your thoughtful responses to my question. But, even your answers rather confirm my view of this story as anti-Christian, or perhaps better said, “un-Christian.” 

    My view of Christ-types in literature is one of self-sacrifice. Christ died and rose again, once for all sinners. Lewis’ Aslan is a perfect Christ-type as he allows himself to become the sacrifice for Edmund’s sin of betrayal.

    I do not get this parallel with Pi. He didn’t atone for anyone as the innocent victim. He embraced his inner tiger in an act of vengeance. That Pi survived a horrible trial has almost nothing to do with the model of Jesus. He didn’t become the lamb. He became the tiger, for his own sake.

    The only Christian witness I see in the movie is the beauty and power in the glory of God’s creation. All else seems unrelated to my experience of Christianity. Am I still missing something?

  15. Red Feline
    Larry Koler

    Red Feline

    Larry Koler: -continued from #6-  … 

    The most important thing to be told is that it was the appearance of the tiger that was his salvation. The author has Pi say this several times. This experience left a man intact psychologically instead of destroyed. The tiger saves him. 

    Wonderfully put, Larry! This illustrates that this story, told from a spiritual point of view rather than that of any one religious point of view, can resonate with Christians from deep within the Christian world.

    One of the messages is that we each have within us a tiger, whom we have to learn to control, but who helps us surmount the challenges that life throws our way. 

    It is very interesting that C.S. Lewis chose to represent the Christ with a Lion in his Narnia series.  · 1 hour ago

    Now there’s a thought! :-) I LIKE it!

  16. Larry Koler

    WC, I have thought about this book a lot. I read it in 2004 and yet it has stuck with me more than any other book I have read in the last 30 years. You may have seen my first post on this and you can see from the title I think pretty highly of this work.

    In metaphysical terms, what this has to do with God is that great tests provide the necessary circumstances to make the hero rise in us. The hero is the direct spark of the divine. This is why the Greeks and the Norse were so enamored of heroes. It is that activated spark of the divine that is pushed into service. When it does it is like feeling God Himself within. Yet, outwardly, the person can experience a nightmarish crucifixion. 

    All great saints go through a trial of some kind. And these trials can appear outwardly very differently than we might think. Christ’s crucifixion is a symbol of this type of experience. Crucifixion was a death usually meted out to slaves.

    -continued-

  17. Red Feline
    DocJay: What did Pi say to the hot dog vendor? Make me one with everything. · 1 hour ago

    Hey, DJ, we are having a very deep, metaphysical discussion here. And you throw in a hot dog! :-))

     What is a hot dog? How do we understand a hot dog? Who made the hot dog, and how? Why a hot dog? :-))

  18. Red Feline
    Fredösphere

    Beyond that, I really liked the idea of the Tiger, etc., and the explanations here. However, the part of the movie I found confusing and downright offensive was the moment near the end: the look of beatific peace on the face of the writer when accepting the idea of religion being lies we tell ourselves in order to cope. Maaaaybe that’s what they are, but why should we like it?I don’t get it either.

    Or did I misinterpret that scene? 

    I would have preferred to put it differently, Fred! Every religious person has their own view of religion. Each of us chooses what we want to believe, because it suits us. And each vision is as true as the other. We each believe our own vision, but we really do have to embrace the fact that it is what it is. Hindus, and spiritual people, see it like this.

    Personally, I find great comfort in this idea, and that I create the vision that brings me love and comfort. My vision is mine, and my link to the Divine. OK, maybe it is a lie, but something inside me tells me it is true. Faith!

  19. DocJay

    WC, his survival was multifaceted. First he had to release his inner animal but all along he knew somehow he was protected by his faith in God. The kid found God in all faiths rather than in exclusivity as I do. There’s a beauty in that even if it places Christ in a lesser status by far. I believe he was interested in showing this stranger a miracle which he attributed to God. In his belief system it makes sense as he saw God everywhere around him as well.

  20. Larry Koler

    -continued from #6-

    Christ’s crucifixion is recognized immediately by saints and people who have been tested to what they thought was beyond their endurance. What’s odd about this type of experience is that inwardly there is an agony and an ecstasy dichotomy wherein St. Theresa of Avila could say:

    The pain was so great I screamed aloud, but the sweetness I experienced was so wonderful, I wanted the pain to go on.

    I haven’t thought all this through but I think that Pi has trouble with the tiger leaving so quickly because of the intimacy of God contact. What he had experienced was an agony and ecstasy state that was the most intimate and personal thing possible yet it was with a truly terrible aspect of himself. Old Testament stuff but truly the heart of the New Testament, too — though the NT told the story differently and for a different audience and time.

    The most important thing to be told is that it was the appearance of the tiger that was his salvation. The author has Pi say this several times. This experience left a man intact psychologically instead of destroyed. The tiger saves him.

Want to comment on stories like these? Become a member today!

You'll have access to:

  • All Ricochet articles, posts and podcasts.
  • The conversation amongst our members.
  • The opportunity share your Ricochet experiences.

Join Today!

Already a Member? Sign In