Life of Pi – my movie review

Life of Pi movie

What “oppression” is more grievous than that a soul seeking the truth, and wishing to attain unto the knowledge of God, should know not where to go for it and from whom to seek it?

(Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 31)

I saw on Wednesday night, courtesy of the Interfaith Alliance and my friend Sana,  a prescreening of the movie “Life of Pi”, directed masterfully by Ang Lee and showcasing Claudio Miranda’s superb camera work. The movie is a stunningly gorgeous visual feast, and a mind bender, based on the book by Yann Martel. I have not read the book so I am sharing here my impressions of a movie which I liked so much that I intend to read the book and then see the movie again.

While my friend Seraj and I were waiting to collect our phones after the movie (yes, they do take your cell phones to prevent you from recording it), we overheard many conversations — each an attempt to interpret the movie. We continued our own conversation on our way back and bounced ideas about what we saw, what we understood, what it all meant. Some of the metaphors we had noticed made more sense than others and I chose to reflect on the movie through a prism shaped and informed by these metaphors. Clearly, this is an individual interpretation — you may or may not agree with them but I would be curious about your opinion, nevertheless.

In the beginning there was a garden…

“Life of Pi” starts with a beautifully shot (taking full advantage of 3D) scenes of the peaceful life in a private zoo in Pondicherry, India. All kinds of wild animals coexist peacefully in an Eden-like garden. Then the story of a boy begins —  a boy shaped by a Hindu-worshiping mother and a science-inspired father. The dichotomy (if not harmony) of science and religion contribute equally to the upbringing of the young protagonist who, eager to understand life and its meaning, starts exploring the different religions he encounters. He starts with the Hinduism of his mother but keeps on exploring the ideas of religion, having first encountered Jesus and later on Mohammad. His attempts to incorporate religion into his life as one whole are both charmingly sweet and thought-provokingly deep. Are only the pure of heart able to grasp the progressive revelation of religion? Do we lose this purity as we grow older and more cynical?

As Pi Patel grows, going through the ups and downs of young adolescence, creatively going the full distance to educate his classmates about the proper pronunciation of his unusual name,  he is drawn to the cage of a Bengal tiger with the unusual name — the gift of somebody’s eager bureaucracy — Richard Parker. Pi’s attempt to feed the fearsome tiger is interrupted by his terrified father in a poignant clash between youthful eagerness and mature apprehension.

The tiger you feed

Which wolf wins? The one you feedOne evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. “One is Evil – It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. “The other is Good – It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

The parenting instinct to save the boy from feeding the wild animal will only postpone the fateful encounter — an encounter which will eloquently illustrate that to be human is to constantly struggle between our wild instincts and the inner earning to be divine.

Soon, the whole family needs to leave its Garden of Eden and embark on a dangerous journey across the Pacific Ocean. The ship carrying all zoo animals, not unlike the Arch of Noah, is battered by torrential rain; unlike it, it sinks in the torturous waters of the Mariana Trench, leaving young Pi Patel and a handful of animals stranded in the middle of nowhere. The battle between Richard Parker and a broken legged zebra, hyena, and an orangutan, ends not surprisingly in favor of the tiger.

The other battle in the lonesome boat — between the boy and the tiger — is ongoing and at the core of the movie.  To me it brings to mind the scenes of Ged fighting with and, in the end, embracing the Gebbeth of the evil self in Ursula LeGuin’s “Wizard of Earthsea“. Can Pi make it in the ocean despite the fearsome animal; can he survive without this tiger keeping him awake, inspiring it to fight and eventually, miraculously, to survive?

 Which story is better?

In the end, we are left with a choice — to believe or not? As it turns out, there is another version of the story — of each story! — a more gruesome and perhaps more believable but hardly more inspiring one. Is the more likely story the better one? Is the religion we are used to better than the others? Is faith worth anything unless tested?

“If you stumble about believability, what are you living for? Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?” ~ Yann Martel, Life of Pi

One Response to “Life of Pi – my movie review

  • Susan Bentler
    6 years ago

    Very thoughtful review, Mitko. I read the book and found it impossible to put down. There are many themes in the book that I could imagine as O read would make a stunning movie. The image of sharing a life-boat with a tiger is stunning and captivating, a great metaphor for the struggle to survive spiritually in a “predatory” predicament. Rather like life, at times. Can’t wait to see the movie!

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