If it's crap ... We'll tell you
I recently saw Life of Pi, by Ang Lee. It was a very picturesque film, and fairly decent for the most part. However, there were certain things that kind of confused me a bit about the film, and I was wondering if anyone else was of the same mind as I, or possibly the opposite. There are spoilers from this point on, so if you continue reading, it's your own damn fault.
My main problem with the movie was the initial objective it set itself out to make. That is to say, the character Pi(played by Irrfan Khan), is contacted by a writer(a non-believer) by way of Pi's uncle, and as his uncle tells the writer that Pi's story will make him believe in God(to which Pi agrees with as well, I believe). As some here know, I am an Agnostic/Atheist in regard to these things, so naturally it piqued my interest. I went into the movie not knowing this initial premise, so imagine my stock in interest rising when this was introduced, along with a healthy bit of skepticism. Even if the movie itself was pure fiction, I think believers of some spirituality in stories of any medium can be a fun thing to partake in. However, the story sets itself up as a way to show the light to a non-believer by means of Pi's story. This I was willing to accept within the bounds of the story. So I sat sternly in attention.
The movie is vivid in it's cinematic quality, and was made so even further by means of 3D. What Pi has to go through is shocking. However, before we get into that, it's best to know his background. Apparently, he was raised with a believer for a mother, and non-believer for a father. Pi grows up in a city/town in India where colonization has turned it into a bit of strange site of culture; one part of town was a French portion, another mainly Indian populated/Hindu, and the other a Muslim section. This sets the stage for Pi's introduction to each, as he finds himself immersed in spirituality, claiming he is a believer in all three(Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam). His father, again a non-believer, finds the thought strange, as obviously all 3 religions have things that contradict the other. However, his mother is more caring and nurturing to his needs in wanting to be a spiritual person.
Later, the family has to move to Canada, keeping in mind that they own a zoo with animals in the Indian town they currently reside in. The father decides he will take a Japanese freighter to Canada through the Pacific Ocean, along with the live cargo of animals he plans to bring with him. During the voyage, they have a bit of a dispute in the mess hall(or whatever you call the place where people eat on a freighter ship), when the mother asks for something vegetarian, and and nasty French cook is short with her, as he just wants to serve basic dishes(sausage, pork, rice, gravy). The family retires and goes to sleep in their quarters. However, Pi is awakened by the storm outside the ship. He decides to go and see the storm himself, out of sheer curiosity. Once outside, he notices the storm starts getting out of hand, flushing over the sailors on deck into the sea, with tremendous power of the waves crashing into the ship.
Pi attempts to go back inside to get his family out of the sinking ship, currently flooding the sleeping quarters. However, he was unsuccessful in doing so. He has to go back out to the deck to survive, where the sailors are preparing the lifeboats. He tries to tell them his family is still inside, but he's pushed into the Life boat and it falls off the ship, due to a Zebra that escaped the cargo compartment in the ship jumping and falling on the life boat along with Pi inside. From afar, Pi sees the giant ship sinking slowly into the sea, knowing his family is now dead. Later, he sees something swimming toward him, and finds it's a Tiger(which they aptly named, " Richard Parker") they kept at the zoo. The tiger forces it's way into the life boat whether Pi likes it or not.
After this, we find that a Hyena had boarded the Life boat without Pi knowing it, as well. He later sees an Orangutan ape floating on a bunch of netted bananas and he helps it onto the boat. Things happen, and the uncontrollable Hyena kills the Zebra, which had broken it's leg when it fell into the life boat initially. Pi is unable to stop it. Later on, the Hyena kills the Orangutan after it hit the Hyena over the head for mauling the Zebra. The Hyena attempts to go for Pi as well, but the Tiger from under the carp leaps out and kills the Hyena, leaving only Pi and the Tiger alive on the life boat. The whole time, the two are fighting for territory on the boat, yet depending on each other to survive, somehow.
The relationship of the two go through a bit of a push and pull, constantly straddling the line between life and death. Pi has to make a makeshift raft tied to the boat, so that the Tiger won't kill him. Pi ends up having to fish, and eating raw meat(as he at some point prior, decided to become a vegetarian). He feeds the Tiger when he can, keeping it alive, as he claims being alone at sea can be deadly without some form of company, and the Tiger keeps him alert.
The two go through a transition of a form of mutual agreement, though only as mutual as a wild tiger and human can have. Pi starting to waste away eventually land on a floating island composed of a bog of sea-weed/vines in the middle of the sea. He finds the seaweeds are edible and takes his fill. He walks into the floating island, along with the Tiger. He also finds the Bog is inhabited by thousands of Meerkats. At night, he notices the Tiger runs back to the boat, as well as the meerkats hiding in the trees. While looking at the patches of pure water collected in the island, he sees fish floating, dead in them. Pi later finds a human tooth in a plant/vegetation he finds in a tree. He later deduces that the island and it's vegetation were carnivorous, and eventually, it eats/dissolves whatever stays there(or something).
So he follows the tiger back to the life boat, and they journey on. Eventually, completely withered and near death, they reach land, on the beaches of Mexico. The Tiger leaves the boat, wearily, and withered as well. The tiger never looks back to Pi as it stumbles toward the jungle canopy, never to see Pi again. Eventually, Pi is found by villagers, and they take him to the hospital. It is there where the most important part of the story takes place.
While in a hospital bed recovering, he is visited by two Japanese Insurance men requesting info regarding what happened during the sinking of the ship and his survival, for the sake of their insurance companies records. He tells them the story that the movie just showed us. However, the Japanese men are a bit skeptical and believe his claims to be a bit outlandish. They claim it's not that they don't believe him, but that it's not something their management would accept as a plausible story. They ask again for something more plausible to report, or rather, "the truth"(as they put it). It is here where Pi reveals something even more ghastly. He tells them as a supposed alternate story to the events which led him in the hospital. He tells them that during the sinking of the ship, he and a sailor fell into the life boat when it fell, and the sailor had broken his leg in the fall. The French cook along with his mother had been in the boat as well. Pi recounts the French cook getting desperate and chopping off the Sailor's leg and using it for bait, along with eating the sailors dead body to live, in an act of cannibalism. Pi's mother astounded and in horror, protests eventually, and the Frenchmen stabs her to death using her as bait as well. Pi eventually kills him in retaliation.
The two Japanese men, recording the story, decide that the first story was the best, and use it to report to their superiors. We cut back to Pi, now older, having the discussion with the writer. The writer surmises that the two stories are intertwined; that the Zebra with the broken leg was actually the sailor, the callous Hyena was the French cook, and the Orangutan was the mother, each with similar fates. Pi tells him what the difference is that in each story the ship still sinks, he still still suffers, loses his family and ends up where he is. He asks him which of the two stories is the preferred story. The writer chooses the first.
Keeping this in mind, I don't think the movie really made it's case in confirmation of a belief in God, but more-so a cheap way of taking the route of comfort rather than the truth, in the form of story telling. I kind of felt cheated when he told the second story, knowing that all of that beautiful imagery was possibly a lie, for him to escape the hard truth he had to endure while at sea. As I was scratching my head over why a writer would propose such a premise, and completely drop the ball in terms of making a convincing argument, I began wondering if there was something I was missing regarding it. Perhaps me being a non-believer is blinding me towards understanding something about the movie.
So I posit to someone here, who has seen the movie, or even read the book, perhaps: did you feel the stories validated a belief in God somehow? If so, can you help me understand how it did so?
I get that. The problem is the beginning of the film is stated outright that the story will make the writer "believe in God". Those very words are uttered before ushering his story to the writer(if I remember correctly). Therefore, it's up to the film or it's writing to give something to the audience to believe in such a supernatural thing.
Unfortunately, whatever hope one had throughout the majority of the film watching such awe-inducing spectacles, is completely destroyed by the twist at the end. By telling another, " which story do you prefer?", assuming one chooses the story of comfort rather than truth(which he confirms in the end), only places the belief in a God as a mere comforted lie, destroying it's value of being no more than myth and interpretation(again, taking this in the realm of the story, and not outside in reality).
In other words, the writer shoots himself in the foot by taking this route of story-telling, when he could've EASILY introduced some other aspect of the divinely supernatural. Movies are escapism, and this type of thing would've been allowed and believable in those terms of movie fantasy, if the writer would've found some other way to introduce it. Instead, we just got more of what we already know; more questions regarding the legitimacy of the believer themselves, rather than any reason to believe in God. I guess I'm more critical of the writing, than I am the meaning. I just couldn't wrap this idea around my head as a good way to write this story's end.