In February, I reviewed four 2012 movies nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. But there was one movie that many of you probably noticed that I didn’t write about: “Life of Pi.” And this may have seemed strange, because that film was probably one of the most likely films that I would have written about because of its spiritual content. Well, the reason I didn’t write about it was because I hadn’t seen it yet. But a few months ago, I finally got to see it, and I feel led to do an article about it on “Reel Christianity” because I feel it’s very important to talk about.
The film opens with a Indian man named Pi Patel (played as an older man by Irrfan Khan) telling his life story to a writer (Rafe Spall) in need of source material. The writer has been told by a mutual friend that Pi’s story will make him believe in God. Pi tells him, however, that he will simply tell him his story, and the writer will have to decide for himself whether or not he believes.
Pi proceeds to tell his life story. He grew up as a very smart boy in school but was also exposed to religion at an early age. He believed in Hinduism after being influenced by his mother and her faith. He found Christ as a pre-adolescent and discovered God’s love. And then later on, he even became a Muslim. So Pi is literally following three different religions—which I think is basis for false theology, but let’s keep looking at the film.
As a young man, he falls in love, watches his family raise animals in a zoo (including a dangerous tiger known as Richard Parker), and then finds out that they must sell the zoo and move from India to Canada by boat. Pi is distraught, but he goes with his family on the boat to Canada. There, they meet a young Asian Buddhist who befriends them briefly and an angry intolerant cook. However, they aren’t on the boat long, as a heavy storm sinks the boat and leaves Pi stranded in the Pacific Ocean alone on a small lifeboat with four other animals: a zebra, a hyena, an ape, and Richard Parker.
I encourage you to see the movie, because all the things that Pi experiences on that boat in the more than two hundred days he is stranded would sound boring on paper. But in the film, it is all so beautiful. Pi and Richard Parker eventually find themselves alone on the boat, and they have to learn to live with each other and communicate. It’s intense at times, but in the hour and a half that we see them interact, we can definitely see a relationship forming between them.
And I hate to skip that whole part of the movie, but I need to get to the ending. When Pi eventually reaches dry land, Richard Parker walks on ahead of him without really acknowledging Pi’s presence. The boy Pi starts to cry as the older Pi explains that after spending so much time with him, he was almost expecting Richard Parker to thank him as a human would, when in fact he could not. And when Pi is approached by reporters wanting to know what happened as he was stranded, they do not believe for a second the story about the tiger.
So instead, Pi tells them another story, about how he was stranded on the boat with his mother, the cook, and the Buddhist, and how one by one each of them died while Pi stayed alive. It’s a harsher story, but more realistic. And as the older Pi finishes telling the writer all this, he asks him a question. The writer has now been told two different stories about how Pi survived. Neither one can be proven. So…
PI: So which story do you prefer?
WRITER: The one with the tiger. That’s the better story.
PI: Thank you. And so it goes with God.
I bet audiences watching “Life of Pi” probably wondered what this means. Well, I did too, and I think I know what Pi is trying to say here. See, earlier in the film, as Pi told about his childhood, we saw a flashback to him and his family having dinner together. There, his father told Pi that believing in three religions was the same as not believing in anything at all, and that the only thing he could believe in that actually made sense was thinking rationally. It’s a harsh truth, but it is sadly the truth in this world.
So in my opinion, that’s what Pi was thinking as he was interrogated by the reporters. No one was going to believe the story with the tiger, so he had to think of a rational story to tell them, one that a rationally thinking world would actually believe. So he did. However, there is still no doubt in my mind that the story about Richard Parker is true. He may have told one story to satisfy the world, but that was the reason for telling it: he wanted to satisfy the world. The true story was so fantastic that no one would have believed it.
And the same goes with God’s love for us. It is so fantastic that the world we live in cannot possibly believe in it. Only by faith can we truly see that He is real, He is true, and He is there for us. Even when Jesus performed miracles, people came to him in unbelief. In Mark 9, it is recorded how the father of a boy with demon possession came to him and said, “‘If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.’ ‘“If you can?”’ said Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for one who believes.’ Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’” (9:22b-24)
My prayer for all of us today is that in a rational, unbelieving world, we would have the faith to overcome our unbelief and have faith that God can work miracles in our lives.