I have never written a movie review before, and I want to say right away that the reason I am writing this one is because I have recently read so many bad reviews on Christian sites. I believe they are being rather unfair. I enjoyed this movie very much, as I enjoyed the book it was based on.
The plot is fairly simple. A writer interviews a man who he has heard has an amazing story, “one that will make you believe in God.” The man, whose name is Pi, goes on to tell the story of his life. His family owned a zoo in French India, and it was there that he was raised. He grew up a traditional Hindu. Later he met a priest who told him about Jesus, and Pi falls in love with Jesus and becomes a Christian. Soon after he meets a Muslim and becomes a Muslim as well. He does all this without renouncing any of the other religions, so he is both a Hindu, Christian, and Muslim at the same time.
This is one area I think the book did a better job of. The movie sort of glosses over this, there is one scene where Pi’s father tells him that he can’t be all at once and that he should give up religion anyway and stick to reason and science. The book as a humorous scene were Pi’s family and all three religious leaders happen to meet and they all try to convince him to make a choice. I think the movie wanted to get on with the action, since the first part does drag a bit. I believe the author had him join all three religions so as to not make it seem as though he was trying to convert the reader to any one religion. The book is aimed at agnostics, but I’ll talk more about that later.
Because of political reasons the family decides to move the zoo to Canada. They load all the animals onto a Japanese freighter and set off across the Pacific. The boat runs into a great storm and sinks. Pi is the only human to get on a lifeboat, but he is not alone. There is also an injured zebra, a hyena, a orangatang, and a tiger. The rest of the movie is about Pi’s journey across the Pacific in a lifeboat with a tiger.
The movie is beautiful. There are so many great visuals such as the calm sea and the sky merging, or the sea reflecting the sky so it seems like the little boat is floating in space. There are hallucinatory trips through the sea with all its strange and beautiful life. None of it is very life-like but it isn’t supposed to be. The visuals are there to create wonder. To show the wonder of God’s creation. One of the criticisms I have heard is that it is “faux nature” and not the real thing. Van Gough’s “Starry Night” isn’t a real to life depiction of the night sky, but it does captures the wonder of gazing up at the cosmos. Wonder is a powerful thing, something I think has been lost in our sheltered lives.
Ok, spoiler alert. If you havent’ seen the movie you might not want to read the rest because I am going to reveal the ending. It shouldn’t be a big surprise because the fact that Pi is being interviewed shows he survives. He eventually gets washed up on shore in Mexico. Later he is interviewed by two men from the Japanese company who owned the boat. He tells them that he doesn’t know why the boat sank, and that he was the only survivor. They all agree on those facts, but they are unsatisfied with the story of him on a lifeboat with a tiger. The tiger ran away into the rain forest before anyone else ever saw him. They ask him to tell them the truth. He says he is telling the truth. They want a story without animals. So he tells them another version of what happened, this time without animals. It is gritty and horrible and without any wonder. He then reminds them that the facts are the same either way, the boat sank without explanation and everyone died except him. They can choose which story to believe, the gritty realistic one, or the other full of wonder. He asks which is the better story, and they confess the one with animals. “So it is with God,” says Pi. They don’t explain how this is to make you believe in God, again the book did a better job.
He talks about atheists and how even though they don’t believe in God they at least have a belief. He can see an atheist dying and seeing the tunnel of light and exclaiming it’s God, while an agnostic would probably just say, “oh its a chemical reaction.” Agnostics have heard both the realistic story and the better story and doesn’t care enough to pick. So the question the book and the movie are asking is if all the facts are the same, the world exists with all its beauty and pain, we are born, we live our lives full of beauty and pain, and we die. We are given to choices, an all-knowing, all loving God created it all for a purpose, or we are an accident, molecules just happened to come together just right without any meaning behind any of it. The Life of Pi asks you to pick the better story.