Why “Life of Pi” (Movie) is Actually Genius – And How I Almost (But-Thank-God-Didn’t) Miss Out
I watched “Life of Pi” with two of my very good friends, Nicole and Barbie, on one Sunday afternoon. I remember having previously heard a lot of raves about how fantastic the movie is but didn’t really know what story to expect. The trailer did not also give me much to draw from but we decided for it anyway because Barbie was oh-so-convincing (haha) and Nicole had been dying to watch it for the longest time. And so began our adventure with Pi and his life.
After we finished the movie, I remember instantly feeling very very confused – and not in a good way. Confused mainly because I found myself not impressed with the movie at all. I was so ashamed to admit to myself and to my co-watchers that the movie felt like a big complete utter waste of my time. I was in fact annoyed and convinced that I did waste my time, because after all, about half of the movie was dedicated so depressingly to a terrible shipwreck and Pi’s seemingly endless attempts at survival. As you will realize, I am not necessarily a fan of watching distress-after-distress-after-distress in a movie – if that’s all there is to it anyway.
Here’s how I wish to present and summarize my two primary annoyances from that movie:
(1) I was annoyed because why was Pi so patient about the Tiger’s life? I care for animals as much as the next person (I really do!) but I was so protective of Pi’s life that I was greatly annoyed and confused that he decided to take care of an animal that was a danger to his life in the first place. “Richard Parker”, the Bengal Tiger, had wished to eat him from the first minute - he’s a tiger for crying out loud. Taking care of the tiger, amidst all the survival struggle, was for me very irrational for Pi to do. And for the story to unfold like so – Pi taking care of the tiger all the way – was something I did not particularly appreciate.
(2) I felt like I wasted my time because if this movie was just another “relativism story” - like how the internet-review-world applauds it to be – then there’s nothing - and I mean nothing - really spectacular about that. Big Fish already did a better job, for one. Relativism for me is bull (im sorry) and had wrapped itself in profoundness that really doesn’t make much practical sense.
But thanks be to God, because I remember that particular minute when everything changed – how a single realization has shifted the black and white to the vibrant of colors that the movie actually really is.
I thank God for that moment. I see it as graced through and through.
Here’s how it all changed for us.
We all know from the “colorful” version of the story how the animals in that version actually represented in reality – the Hyena was the Cook, Zebra was the Sailor, Orangutan was Pi’s mom and the Bengal Tiger was Pi himself. And the real person Picine himself has confirmed this allegory.
I remembered myself asking Nicole and Barbie out-loud (during my pre-appreciation phase), “Who then is Pi?” which I think was a legitimate and very valid first question to ask. Who then did Pi actually represent in that “colorful” version of the story?
Nicole thought about it, and then quickly replied that no one was Pi. Of course that didn’t sit well with me - because if no one represented Pi in that story, then the movie is really playing us all – because 100% of the shipwreck struggle was about the character of Pi enduring so much to take care and to stay alive with the Tiger. What kind of storytelling was it, if Pi did not stand for anyone?
But as much as I have all these thoughts in my head, I still really did not understand anything significant - yet.
And so after a brief minute, I remembered Barbie, who had previously watched the movie weeks before, comment on how she had wondered, for a few days, how the movie achieved its main premise – which is to prove that God exist. Recall how Picine spoke about this – about how his life story will ultimately prove that God exists. He established this to the writer that he was speaking to, before he started telling his story. Nicole and I had forgotten about this premise. Little did we know that we needed Barbie to specifically veer us back into that premise because it ultimately paved way to the crux realization that Nicole eventually saw. And oh wow, was that realization mind-blowing!
The Great Translation (I call it this because I’m a Math Major).
We know about translation in Algebra. And how a Y=X+1 is a Y=x (a line when graphed) but translated one step upwards. Sorry for this mini-geek portion of the discussion. (By the way, if you don’t understand this, you are perfectly fine).
Well, we think “Life of Pi” is precisely that.
This is The Great Translation: Pi is to the Tiger (or Human is to Animal) as God is to Man.
Nicole eventually saw it – that the character of Pi in the “colorful” shipwreck story alluded to Jesus himself – providing grace, as well as ultimate sacrifice when He came down as man – trading His majestic glory as God, to become human himself. Remember early in the movie, Picine, when he was a kid, had kept on asking the priest the question why God would come down as a human to save us. We think this is precisely the link.
Picine, when he confirmed that he was the Bengal Tiger in the “colorful” version of the story, has managed to cleverly and powerfully introduce his own encounter of God’s grace while he was struggling in that shipwreck experience. He has effectively depicted that encounter when he spoke of the character of Pi - who has faithfully taken care of the Bengal Tiger (which represented Picine himself).
Crux Realization: Pi is to the Tiger as God is to Man
Now place this particular crux realization in parallel to my annoyance #1 (see it mentioned above), then it reveals a lot about the radical nature of God’s love. Picine’s allegory is compelling because if I was greatly annoyed and distressed about Pi’s efforts to take care of the Tiger, then it should bring me to also realize and ask this rather arresting reality - Why would God care in as much as Pi did to the tiger? Remember my “Great Translation”. The tiger did not deserve the least of Pi’s concern – how much more entailing Pi’s sacrifices as terrible as risk of death, providing comfort (boat vs. raft) and providing food. This gives us a powerful view of the parallelism that humans, in actuality, do not deserve the least of God’s patience, kindness and love – all the more Jesus’ sacrifice of death by the cross.
Sidenote: What should also struck home is how when the Tiger and Pi have finally escaped to the island, “Richard Parker” did not even care to look back at Pi. This is how we are sometimes with God.
Why I think the writer was a master storyteller:
1. ”Richard Parker” - which is a real human complete name assigned as the Bengal Tiger’s name in the movie was no coincidence.
2. ”Pi” as the name of the main character was no coincidence, either. Pi, in math, is an irrational number – infinite, endless, and cannot be contained. Reminds us of that same nature of God himself.
1. Picine believing that the tiger had a soul (during the early part of the movie)
2. ”The Island with all the Meerkats” – we saw it as a representation of Earth itself. Where life is seemingly good (much like how the Island was during the mornings) but how it’s actually toxic and deadly (how the Island was at night - the same glorious water that Pi bathed in in the morning turns to acid during the night). That Island was not meant to sustain Pi and Richard Parker’s life. It absolutely can’t. Pi, said in the movie, and I paraphrase, that they can choose to live with the Meerkats day in and day out but death will remain to be the endpoint. And that’s how it is in Earth. Earth is toxic - its rotting, its decaying, it will not ultimately sustain. Men are not meant to live on earth forever – because death ultimately awaits there.
So how did the movie prove that God exists - like how it had set to achieve from the very beginning? The movie proved that God exists because the real Picine was alive - because the Bengal Tiger survived.
Via Picine’s allegory, he was able to communicate how God has sustained him every step of the way. And how he, as that tiger, so helpless and useless, survived precisely and solely because of that grace. Humans, much like the tiger in Picine’s allegory, could not go through life in its pure un-aided, un-graced form and actually survive. We are that tiger in that shipwreck scenario. And God was Pi.
This revelation and realization has been truly humbling for me and I haven’t been the same ever since. It has made me see, in a very unique and refreshing way, of what God has been constantly doing in every second of our lives – extending love, grace and mercy, despite not deserving the least of it.