The first time I watched Life of Pi, I liked it. I had earlier read the book (which is good), but when I saw it visually, I liked it even more. Partly because the characters and animals I saw were more beautiful than those I imagined. But I couldn’t appreciate the movie as I do now as I wasn’t mature enough back then. The portions which talked about God, I thought, were blatant. I was more inclined towards Fight Club’s commentary of God like, ‘Our fathers were our models for God. If our fathers bailed, what does that tell you about God?’ or ‘You have to consider the possibility that God does not like you. He never wanted you. In all probability, he hates you. This is not the worst thing that can happen.’ and finally, my then favorite ‘Fuck damnation, fuck redemption! We are God’s unwanted children? So be it!’
I was reading books and watching movies that were either nihilistic or atheistic, and I ended being an agnostic for most of my college years. I rewatched the movie a couple of months ago and I realized there was so much than meets the eye. It had a beautiful subtext on religion that you could constantly pause and ideate. Again, this might just be me over-imagining things, but that’s the fun about watching a movie! So I decided to sit down and write how a simple, yet complex, movie reinstated my belief in God in just under 3 hours of its runtime.
The following paragraphs may contain potential SPOILERS from the movie. STOP RIGHT HERE if you haven’t already watched it. Also, it’d help you relate to what I’m about to say if you’d already watched it.
The movie starts off with a conversation between a writer and the central character of the story, Pi. He says he was born and raised in a Zoo near Pondicherry, where he was delivered by a herpetologist who was there to check on some reptile at the Zoo. He goes on to say he was saved, but the reptile ended up dying because that was Karma or the act of God. This is not the only time this movie talks about animals and Gods simultaneously. But, what’s the big subtext here, you might wonder. I’ll tell you about this later.
The writer asks him to tell a story, his story, that’ll make him believe in God. And so he begins his story: The lesson on spirituality and religion, if I may.
Lesson 1: Believing in everything is the same as not believing in anything.
Pi’s father is an atheist who doesn’t believe in God because none of the Gods saved him in his childhood when he suffered from Polio. His mother, on the other hand, was a Hindu, who was abandoned by her family because they thought she had married beneath them. She feels her religion is the only thing that reminds her of her family. This answers a very intimate question about religion: What’s the idea behind a religion? Is it to save someone from adversities or is it to bring people of similar belief together? Is the idea of God to save people, or is he just a medium, for like-minded people to discuss and cherish?
Pi is first introduced to Krishna, then Hanuman and the rest of the Hindu Gods follow. He is then introduced to Jesus in a hill station. He learns about Christianity through a priest and finally finds Islam. There’s innocence in his quest for religion, something we weren’t allowed to do in our childhood. Like Pi, I was introduced to Hinduism because my parents believed in it. But, all through my life, I wasn’t allowed to practice another religion, in fact, I wasn’t allowed to discuss another religion. How will you believe in something strongly if you aren’t allowed to debate on the possibility of an alternative belief? Am I a staunch believer of Hinduism if I don’t learn about Christianity or Islam, or am I just being ignorant?
Pi practices all three religions simultaneously, and he even jokes about it to the writer. He prays before his meal and says ‘Amen’. The writer tells him he didn’t know Hindus said ‘Amen’ and Pi replies, ‘Catholic Hindus do. We get to feel guilty in front of hundreds of Gods instead of ONE.’ But, all of these are different ideologies, different beliefs and how can one practice everything at once? Is that even possible? Pi’s father has the apt answer for it, ‘Believing in everything at once is the same as not believing in anything at all!’ which sounds about right. But not how you think of it. You can’t practice all religions, but that doesn’t mean believing everything in one religion is right. You have a different religion to choose different things from. It’s up to you to choose the best things about each of them.
Lesson 2: Faith is a house with many rooms and plenty of room for doubt.
“Now we have to send our boy to the middle of the Pacific, and…” “And make me believe in God”
“Yes, we’ll get there!”
Pi and his family move to Canada in a ship along with the animals. His father had sold the animals to someone there and the family is migrating to Canada as well. When the ship reaches the Pacific, it sinks, taking with it everything and everyone Pi has had so far. He is left in a boat with an orangutan, a zebra, a hyena, and finally a tiger, a.k.a Richard Parker. The hyena kills the orangutan and the zebra, only to be killed by Richard Parker. For the rest of the 227 days, Pi has to live alone with Richard Parker.
As I mentioned earlier, there is something about animals and Gods in this movie. When he says he’s been born in a zoo, does he talk about the land of India in general? Just like how the zoo has all kinds of animals, India is a country with all kinds of beliefs. Pi is left in the middle of the sea with 4 other animals in the boat, but only one survives with him till the end. Can these 4 animals be the 4 different beliefs he had come across in his life, and only of them helps him survive till the end? There’s an alternate story he tells the shipping company about three other people being stuck in the boat with him: his mother, the sailor, and the chef. But even then, you could relate each of them to one particular belief and all of them eventually die, leaving him alone in the boat. He is, in the main story, stuck with Richard Parker which is a metaphor to his own belief.
Lesson 3: And so it goes with God!
Pi spends 227 days in the sea alone with Richard Parker. He is initially scared of him, hates him, then gets used to him being around, feeds him, and finally, when he reaches the shore, he misses him as Richard Parker leaves into the woods. This resonates well with my belief in God. I was first introduced to God in fear. I was scared God would punish me if I don’t behave. I then started hating God because He instilled fear in me, or to be more precise, I instilled fear in myself because of Him. I then got used to the idea of God because I realized He wasn’t that scary. Pi had conversations with Richard Parker, just like how most of us would converse with God. We pray to him, we warn him, we make promises to Him as if He would listen to us, a single soul in the land of billions of souls. But, that doesn’t concern us, we know His job is to listen to us just like it’s our job to tell Him. There’s nothing wrong with a single person talking to his version of God, or hating Him, or even fighting with Him. The real problem is when a group of people identify their individual God to be universal.
My Richard Parker is different from yours. Just because both of our Richard Parkers are tigers, doesn’t mean we get to be the majority. My version of Richard Parker is based on what I believe and not what you believe. And so it goes with God!
I’m sorry if my article sounded preachy, but I blame this movie for making me write this. To answer your final question of ‘Do you practice what you preach?’ Well, I think I will.
Please let me know in the comments section if this article was boring or if you think I started some really valid discussion.
Writer. Storyteller. Fake laughing my way through life. Surviving a quarter-life crisis.