The story of the boy, Pi, whose name originally stems from his father’s enchantment with a beautiful pool in France, is wrought with symbolism and depth of meaning. The movie adeptly handles the fantastic story of a young man stranded in a boat with an adult Bengal tiger. The story line is preserved, though some of the language of the book is simplified and loses its poetry. However, the graphics make up for whatever is missing linguistically. One is enchanted by the cinematography and the fantastic sea creatures. The night scenes, studded with glittering stars reflect on the water’s surface and illuminate the underworld life of the sea. Indeed it is a world filled with wonder and peril.
Pi, whose name represents the irrational number of 3.144444 onto infinity, is caught up in the beauty of both science and religion and the movie struggles with the theme of reckoning the two. The ship that sinks, Tsimtsum, comes from a cabbalist belief that sometimes God withdraws His hand to teach us important lesson. The terrible storm that sinks his family, most of the zoo animals and the entire ship is evidence of this and the condition of life. Sometimes God does sink our boat, to teach us to trust Him more. Suffering has value and at its hand we can learn deep truths about God’s character and our role in the scheme of life. Yet Pi’s journey is not a pious, glib or easy one. It is the life of one who tries to understand it and God. It is life fraught with faith, fear and many dangers.
In the beginning of the story, Pi asks to be baptized into the Christian faith, though He is a Muslim and Hindu. Whether his shipwreck experience is part of this baptizing may be debatable, but John the Baptist said, “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11). Indeed Pi is faced with trials by fire: the loss of his entire family shipwrecked alone with a Bengal tiger, swamped by further storms, and lost at sea for 277 days, nine months the time period for human gestation. Surely this second birth is like a new birth, which is what baptism symbolizes.
As an adult Pi tells the writer, “you cannot know the strength of your faith until it is tested.” And tested it is. Pi faces another fantastic storm, where he sees what he believes is God, and fully surrenders to Him, but Richard Parker, the tiger is afraid. Still other dangers await Pi when he encounters the algae island, where at first he is enchanted and eats his full, but something all together different lurks at night. Regarded as a symbol of the Garden of Eden, the island transforms by night into a hellish carnivore. Pi makes his escape before he eats of the “forbidden fruit” which gives him understanding of the island’s danger. Finally Pi washes up on the shores of Mexico whose sand was a soft as the “cheek of God.” However, Pi laments because Richard Parker leaves him without glancing back, somewhat reminiscent of Noah, whose animals depart from the ark and Jonah who is spit out of the whale’s belly.
Pi is left to tell his fantastic story to the officials who don’t believe him, so he changes it to something more believable and replaces the animals with humans. The writer interviewing Pi later in life catches the symbolism: The hyena is the French cook; the orangutan his mother, the zebra, the Chinese tailor and the tiger, Pi. Yet the story is left lacking with such trite symbols. He also lets the writer know that he was introduced to God though Hinduism, but he got to know love though Jesus.
While this is not strictly a Christian movie, it does employ the themes of the faith, and wrestles with the world of science and rationalism as opposed to that of the soul and religion. It does an exquisite job in interweaving Pi’s journey with the wonders of modern technology to produce a stunning visual world, representing the journey of a soul to make meaning of life and know God. It is the rich texture, the depth of the story and the spectacular visual effects that delivers a big slice of humble pie in the Life of Pi.