Film: Life of Pi
Director: Ang Lee
Screenwriters: David Magee and Yann Martel (based on the novel by Yann Martel)
Cast: Suraj Sharma, Ayush Tandon, Adil Hussain, Irfan Khan, Tabu, Rafe Spall
?And then Richard Parker, my fierce companion, the terrible one whodunnits’d kept me alive, disappeared forever from my life . . . Yet I know that there was something more staring back at me from his eyes than my own reflection.?
from Life of Pi
As a boy Pi is fascinated by Richard Parker, the tiger recently acquired by his family’s zoo. The tiger has a human name?a WASP name, no less?created by a clerical error that switched his name (?Thirsty?) with that of the great white hunter who found him drinking from a stream when he was just a cub.
Pi attributes a soul to the tiger and assumes a degree of affinity with him that should, he thinks, keep the tiger from devouring him. His father begs to differ, and to teach Pi the dangers of thinking of such beasts as potential friends, he tethers a young goat to the tiger’s cage and makes Pi watch as the tiger quickly tears it apart.
Later, Pi’s religious quest seems largely inspired by a compulsion to grapple with this grim face of nature, to put a more congenial face on necessity than what threatened his young consciousness. However, he finds only ever more mystery, and the nickname he gives himself is in itself a symbol of the unending random conundrum of existence.
Pi chooses the path of many paths, using his native Hinduism to branch into Christianity and Islam while also heeding his rationalist father’s advice to heed the dictates of science and his mother’s caveat that though science has helped us understand our exterior world, It’s limited in plumbing the interior. Tellingly, Jesus is the common point of all these religious paths, being part of the Hindu pantheon as well as an important prophet in Islam.
Life of Pi is very much about the existential position of the human being within an absurd universe, the lone hero pitted against a necessity that will not recognize humanity’s specialness. But brute nature’s weakness is entirely in the brute part; although It’s the power to master nature that often corrupts human beings and turns them into exploitive oppressors, It’s also this power that enables us to survive.
The brutishness of nature, from the human perspective, is best manifested in its indifference. The moral blindness of nature sometimes forces us to be immoral to survive, and the even more offensive indifference of other human beings brings out our own inherent evil. Yet It’s this indifference that drives us to seek the face of what lies behind it, to find the meaning in the shocking strangeness of our suffering and alienation.
The film is filled with references to the great soup of life metaphor, which we often see in brilliant shots of the ocean and what lies just beneath the surface.
There is a side story related to forms of truth, a topic significant in a scientific age that largely rejects truth in the form of metaphor. There are two stories; in both stories the beginning and the outcome are the same, but God prefers the myth?the story rich in metaphor?the literal truth. If religious fundamentalists could appreciate this, the human race might have a chance of surviving the castaway state in which we currently find ourselves.
It’s Pi’s compassion?or perhaps his need for company?that keeps him from killing Richard Parker when he gets the chance. He and the predator share the same urgent inner directive, to kill or be killed, and the same need to share the planet in a way That’s mutually beneficial. This locks them together while compelling them both to break their own rules of engagement.
In the end the tiger is Love itself. we’re reminded of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: He’s not a tame lion, but he is good.
Life of Pi manifests eight of the Mindful Bard’s criteria about for films well worth seeing: 1) it is authentic, original, and delightful; 2) it poses and admirably responds to questions that have a direct bearing on my view of existence; 3) it stimulates my mind; 4) it provides respite from a sick and cruel world, a respite enabling me to renew myself for a return to mindful artistic endeavour; 5) it is about attainment of the true self; 6) it inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation; 7) it displays an engagement with and compassionate response to suffering; and 8) it makes me appreciate that life is a complex and rare phenomenon, making living a unique opportunity.