Man, of course, is the king of nature, but only his subjects are not aware of this. Once alone with Infinity, a person can behave like a wild animal, or can become a true likeness of God. How does this happen and what drives us at the decisive moment? What is the general relationship between man, God and nature? The writer Yann Martel posed these questions for himself when creating the novel Life of Pi. After watching the film based on his novel, this question began to be asked by millions of viewers. There is only one answer: the film should be considered in two planes at once: visual and philosophical.
What is the movie “Life of Pi” about?
The picture begins with the fact that a young writer comes to a meeting with the owner of a small zoo. The elderly man, who is of Indian ethnicity, is named Pi: his father named him Pissin, after a swimming pool in Paris. He himself, having endured everything at school, called himself simply Pi – as one of the letters in the Greek alphabet.
The life of young Pi from the very beginning was rather unusual: he lived in the family of a zookeeper and was keenly interested not only in animals, but also in different religions.
By the age of fifteen, the young man tried to find himself in Hinduism, and in Islam, and in Christianity, but none of the confessions gave him what he (rather unconsciously than consciously) was looking for. In the end, he came to an amazing compromise: practice all three religions at the same time.
One day, the father of the family decided to move to Canada, taking half of the zoo with him. When their ship went to the open sea, a storm began. Only Pi survived.
Having got out of the sinking ship onto the boat, the young man suddenly discovered that he was not alone: several animals were saved with him on the boat, among which was a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
All analyzes and reviews say that the film “Life of Pi” goes beyond all recognized standards. As such, there is, in fact, no plot: for almost two hours, the viewer sees a small boat drifting in the ocean, and watches how a young man tries to tame a tiger …
Although by the end of the film it becomes clear that everything is just the opposite: it was Richard Parker, a tiger with a human nature, who was able to teach Pi a lot. If you do not dig into the philosophical jungle, then the idea of the film lies precisely in this.
But in this beautiful, bewitching and terrible film, there is also a hidden meaning.
“Life of Pi” plot explained
Why is the main character’s name so strange? In fact, his full name is even more unusual – Piscine Molitor, in honor of the Parisian pool. Because of the ridicule of others, Pisin takes a new name for himself – Pi, shortening it to a letter of the Greek alphabet. This letter is familiar to all students of mathematics; it underlies many formulas. Thanks to it, we can calculate the length of any circle – a smooth, curved, closed line, knowing the length of a straight line segment – the radius. This letter is a true symbol of harmony. The hero of the film, who is trying to reconcile the ideologies of three religions – Hinduism, Christianity and Islam – is also trying to build himself into the formula of peace.
Leaving his homeland, in search of a new life, Pi, by the will of fate, finds himself in the middle of the ocean, alone under the endless sky, and in the boat besides him there are four animals. A shipwreck, like the collapse of plans and hopes, brings everyone to the brink of death. A storm in the middle of the ocean, like any life storm, puts everyone on the brink of survival. Man builds his relationship with animals, as God – with people. Animals behave as expected. They do not recognize the supremacy of Man, just as people deny God. They are trying to kill him – just like those people who refuse God. They kill each other, like people who are possessed by a thirst for blood and profit. But Pi wins, and harmony triumphs.
man and tiger
Stars from heaven are reflected in the ocean abyss. In the midst of this primeval darkness, in the sparkle of billions of stars, a man and a tiger are drifting in a lonely boat. They worked hard to reach an understanding. Man had to tame the tiger, as God has to teach man. They never became friends, but elements of order appeared in their relationship.
A full range of emotions sounds here: unwillingness to obey, fear, suppression of will, care, recognition of the need for cooperation. Before us is no longer a pair of “man – tiger” or “God – man”, but one, single being. They can save their lives only in cooperation – both in the middle of the ocean and on a “carnivorous” island that devours its inhabitants.
The desired shore gives them freedom from each other. The tiger, without looking back, goes into the jungle. Similarly, a person, having received salvation from God, rarely thanks him even with a glance.
People or animals?
Returning from his wanderings to solid ground, leaving philosophical searches and finding himself in the real world, Pi is faced with the need to explain everything that happened to him from a materialistic, atheistic, literal point of view. Instead of the raging elements – the walls of the hospital, instead of the boat, this symbol of movement – a hospital bed. The hero is interrogated by officials representing the interests of the owner of the ship that has crashed. The story about the search for truth, self-knowledge and God-knowledge is too unrealistic for an official report.
Then Pi, as if descending from Heaven to earth, gives a completely earthly explanation of what happened. In the boat with him, there really were not animals from a traveling zoo, but people. It was not a vicious hyena that killed a wounded zebra and a female orangutan who stood up for Pi, but a ship’s cook, a cannibal and a murderer, killed a wounded sailor and Pi’s mother. And it was not the tiger that destroyed the hyena, but Pi himself, feeling the strength of the tiger and animal hatred in himself, killed the cook.
There was no one in the boat except Pi. There was only one, in two essences – human and bestial. And if we consider that God created man in his own image and likeness, then the boy Pi was the image of the Divine principle in man, and the tiger was the animal, bestial nature. So he was looking for peace with himself, with his two essences. And only by reconciling them could he be saved.
“Life of Pi” ending explained
At the end, the main question is: which of the two stories do we accept? How do we understand what happened to Pi? What is more in us – human or animal? Will we believe in a philosophical, “high”, or generally accepted, understandable to all “logical” explanation?
Nobody was surprised by the version with murders and cannibalism. No one was surprised by the fact that people at a critical moment behaved like animals. It would seem that this should be incredible for us, and not the possibility of sailing together in the same boat with a tiger. Therefore, the author of the novel Martel and director Ang Lee urge to take Pi’s story “at face value”: they believe in people.
And for those who still hesitate, there is another explanation. Pi tried to reconcile the three religions, love God, but crossed the moral line. To find salvation, he had to fight the killer tiger that lurked within him. And this means that both versions are true, and the battle with the “inner tiger” can await any person after another catastrophe in the middle of the stormy ocean of life.
The main themes in the film “Life of Pi” are religion and faith. The protagonist is in the process of searching for God: Pi does not question the fact that he exists.
The story of Pi’s miraculous rescue, in which he ended up on a boat with Richard Parker and other animals, is the version that we see throughout the film.
According to the first version, in the finale, Richard Parker went into the jungle without even looking back, which was the biggest tragedy for the main character. The love was not mutual: Pi loved the tiger, but he did not. Pi considered him a friend, and the tiger perceived him solely as a machine that gives him fish.
When the young man was rescued by a passing ship, he was required to tell a different version of events, more “plausible”. Another story came from Pi’s lips. And in this context, all the past events of the film “Life of Pi” began to seem much more gloomy.
In another version, there were no animals, but only people who turned into animals. They killed each other to survive. The events of this creepy story are more like a horror movie than an adventure fairy tale.
It is noteworthy that the second version seems no less (and possibly more) plausible than the version with the tiger. And the viewer, who seems to have taken off his rose-colored glasses, comes up with the idea that Pi, who survived all this horror and is in denial, invented Richard Parker and the events associated with him. Just so you don’t go crazy after everything you’ve seen.
An alternative version is much more terrible: at the end, when Pi, at the request of the rescuers, tells the “true story” of the shipwreck, the tiger also leaves without turning around.
This is because it didn’t really exist. Richard Parker was only the personification of the essence of the protagonist in extreme conditions.
The deep meaning of the picture is that man needs God. But he remembers him only when trouble happens. And when the storm subsides in life and calm sets in, a person again forgets God.
What actually happened?
There is no evidence of the veracity of either version, it remains only to believe in the one that you like best. At the end, Pi asks the shocked writer which story he likes best. He replies that he prefers the version with the tiger.
This is where one of the meanings of the film lies: it is one thing to give preference to something, and quite another to believe in it as something truly existing.
In the book, writer Yann Martel doesn’t even hint which story is true. Nor does director Ang Lee. Readers and viewers must choose for themselves.
Tiger, dance and soul
This is the first important chain that you should pay attention to. At the moment when Pi first meets the tiger – “Richard Parker”, he is mesmerized by the sparkle of the predator’s eyes, in which, as it seems to him, he sees the soul. Afterwards, the materialist father convinces his son with a harsh lesson that only the soul and intellect of the one watching the tiger is reflected in the eyes of the tiger, that is, a psychological projection. But, having said this, the father binds the soul of the tiger and the boy. After all, he is convinced that he may have seen in the eyes of the beast a piece of his soul.
Then the searching boy, by the will of fate, sees the dance of the girls. He is fascinated by how, with the help of rhythm and grace, one can imitate the world and learn about it. And through the same grace, the beloved girl explains to him the habits of a predatory beast – a tiger. So Pi feels and cognizes the silent contemplation of nature, expressed in the animal world.
God, tiger and universe
The second interesting chain. In Life of Pi, God is first a pagan arbiter, then a great creator and artist, then a cruel mythical mocker, and, in the end, the Almighty, maintaining the balance of life and death, giving and taking, bestowing knowledge.
At the moment of reconciliation with a predator and the proximity of starvation, the tiger becomes a guide for Pi, he helps Pi immerse himself in a bright mystical world where everything is connected and intertwined, where everything has its own order. At this moment, the tiger becomes a kind of incarnation of God.
Pi sees God in everything that surrounds him, and communicates with him through natural phenomena, animals, and so on. In general, such a pantheistic (pantheism is the deification of the universe) attitude to the world in Western cinema is manifested more than once. Of the films known to me, the film “Alive” contains a similar message. There, the main characters, completely devoid of any adequate hopes for salvation, trust God with their lives, and on foot, in cold and hunger, cross the impregnable Chilean mountains – the Andes. Being in disastrous conditions, the heroes comprehend the incorporeal God, not manifested, but present everywhere around. The second film containing a similar message is “Outcast”, where the relationship with God is also not conditioned by religion or other dogmatics of human civilization. Both of these films deserve separate reviews.
But personally, I have a question for the author of Life of Pi. How is it – why did Pi’s parents who left their homeland die, and he reached the land in which no one was waiting for him, and which is alien to him? In addition, Pi finds his human happiness there. Didn’t God point out the fatal mistake made by the Pi family, who embarked on a desperate journey? Or was this sacrifice made for the sake of his knowledge, like the biblical sacrifice of Christ? What did the author mean by this? This ultimately remains unclear, and may not have an answer.
Vishnu Island, Gratitude, Farewell
During the entire time of his suffering, Pi never curses God in his heart. He tries to understand his motives, tries to understand everything. At the same time, on the contrary, he thanks God for life when he is near death. Then he ends up on a mysterious island.
The island of Vishnu is the allegory that changes the attitude to the whole incredible journey of Pi. Only at this moment the question arises: either the boy, dying, began to see hallucinations, or initially this story of survival carried a metaphorical meaning. The island of Vishnu is the island of life and death, giving in the morning, taking away at night, the island of God. This is a subtle metaphor, a sleeping God, in whose dream, according to legend, all people and the whole world were created.
Pi leaves the island, once again taking responsibility for his life on his own. When the barely alive Pi reaches the shore, his predatory friend, barely able to stand on his feet, leaves the hero, but does not say goodbye. It is precisely the fact that the tiger did not say goodbye to him that causes deep resentment in Pi. However, there is one more moment in this film where there is no goodbye. Namely: sailing away, Pi does not remember how he said goodbye to his girlfriend. What could this mean?! Those who have not said goodbye forever will be able to meet again. But if everything is more or less clear with a girl, then who is this Tiger ?!
For the official version of what happened – for representatives of the insurance company, Pi tells an alternative story. In it, instead of animals, there are people, and he appears as the same tiger. But can we say that Pi was struggling with his inner beast?! At some point – perhaps, but this beast revealed to him spiritual powers that Pi did not know about before and, of course, God.
So what was the real story? It doesn’t matter. But indeed, there is God in the story of the tiger.
When I re-read the reviews of this film, I came across what many believe, they say, Vishnu Island and other metaphors shown in the film destroy the genre. That is, someone seriously decided that this is a film about the new Robinson Crusoe, about the triumph of the will and the struggle for survival! As if this film is a banal (precisely banal!) victory of the mind over the elements! Well, for my part, I am convinced that the film is not about that at all. And it’s been said literally from the beginning.
And finally, back to the main character. In Hollywood, the image of the “little man” is very much loved and often exploited. So, here, in the film Life of Pi, there is a real Big Man who inspires, who you want to understand, who you want to believe. And most importantly, you begin to feel this person in yourself.