Life of Pi
HZT4U/HRT3M/O: Life of Pi
“Above all, don’t lose hope.”
"In the end, all of life becomes a moment of letting go."
There is a lot of philosophy in Life of Pi. From a positive psychology standpoint, the main character is very resilient and purpose-orientated.
Themes: Will to live, determination, story-telling/mythology, and The Nature of Religious Belief (film/novel begins with an old man in Pondicherry who tells the narrator, “I have a story that will make you believe in God.” Storytelling and religious belief are two closely linked ideas in the film/novel. On a literal level, each of Pi’s three religions, Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam, come with its own set of stories, which are used to spread the teachings and illustrate the beliefs of the faith. Pi enjoys the wealth of stories, but he also senses that, as Father Martin assured him was true of Christianity, each of these stories might simply be aspects of a greater, universal story about love. Stories and religious beliefs are also linked in Life of Pi because Pi asserts that both require faith on the part of the listener or devotee. Surprisingly for such a religious boy, Pi admires atheists (in the book). To him, the important thing is to believe in something, and Pi can appreciate an atheist’s ability to believe in the absence of God with no concrete proof of that absence. Pi has nothing but disdain, however, for agnostics, who claim that it is impossible to know either way, and who therefore refrain from making a definitive statement on the question of God. Pi sees this as evidence of a shameful lack of imagination. To him, agnostics who cannot make a leap of faith in either direction are like listeners who cannot appreciate the non-literal truth a fictional story might provide.
Life of Pi is based on Yann Martel's 2001 novel of the same name. The storyline revolves around a 16-year-old Indian boy named Piscine Molitor "Pi" Patel, who survives a shipwreck in which his family dies, and is stranded in the Pacific Ocean on a lifeboat with a tiger named Richard Parker.
If you were away when we watched the film and wish to watch it before reading further, this is your Spoiler Alert: Pi is crushed that Richard Parker does not acknowledge him before disappearing into the jungle. Pi is rescued and brought to a hospital. Insurance agents for the freighter interview him, but do not believe his story and ask what "really" happened. Remembering an incident aboard the ship when the ship's cook insulted his family, he makes up a less fantastic account of sharing the lifeboat with his mother, a Buddhist sailor with a broken leg, and the cook. According to this story, the cook killed the sailor in order to eat him and use him as bait. In a later struggle, Pi's mother pushed her son to safety on a smaller raft before the cook stabbed her and threw her overboard. Pi later returned, took the knife and killed the cook. Next, Yann notes the parallels between the two stories: the orangutan was Pi's mother, the zebra was the sailor, the hyena was the cook, and Richard Parker was Pi. Pi asks which story the writer prefers, and the writer chooses "the one with the tiger" because it is "the better story", to which Pi responds, "Thank you. And so it goes with God". Glancing at a copy of the insurance report, Yann sees that the agents wrote that Pi survived 227 days at sea with an adult Bengal tiger, meaning they had also chosen the more fantastic story to be the one recorded as the real story.
The author of the novel meant to teach readers that life is a story... You can choose your story... A story with God is the better story." A recurring theme throughout the novel seems to be believability. Pi at the end of the book asks the two investigators "If you stumble about believability, what are you living for? "There are two main themes of the book: "that all life is interdependent, and that we live and breathe via belief" (positive psychology).
The author is also quoted as saying: “I must say a word about fear. It is life's only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving ease. It begins in your mind, always ... so you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don't, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.”
- Pick 2 of the following quotes and interpret them in your own words considering the context during the film: (4)
- a) “Why would a Lotus flower hide in the forest?”
- b) “…And so it goes with God?”
- c) “I know zoos are no longer in people’s good graces. Religion faces the same problem. Certain illusions about freedom plague them both.”
- d) “Without Richard Parker, I wouldn’t be alive today to tell you my story.”
- e) “The lower you are, the higher your mind will want to soar.”
- What would you do if you were stranded at sea in a lifeboat? (1)
- What is your view on zoos? (2)
- Was there really a tiger in the boat or not? Explain. (2)
BONUS: How might the storm scene (the climax) be symbolic?
Information on the floating island:
The floating island is very symbolic of society, humanity, faith and the environment. For example, Castello Aragonese is a small island which really exists in the Tyrrhenian Sea near Naples. Bubbles of carbon dioxide rise from volcanic vents on the seafloor and dissolve to form high concentrations of carbonic acid that make seawater corrosive. That real island offers insight into the acidification of the world’s oceans, as they absorb increasing amounts of anthropogenic atmospheric carbon dioxide thanks to our excessive burning of “archived” photosynthesis fuels (oil, coal and natural gas). Like the floating island Pi and Richard Parker discover, the island of Castello Aragonese creates beds of vivid green sea grass and sustains swarms of translucent jellyfish and algae. Yet no other life survives in its waters. All the world’s oceans could in theory become this acidified via pollution by 2100 with severe impacts on small lifeforms in the ocean.
Initially Pi thinks the island is a delusion (in the book). “I was getting used to my delusion. To make it last I refrained from putting a strain on it; when the lifeboat nudged the island, I did not move, only continued to dream.” But the author spends too long with the island for it to just be a delusion. Pi describes the island very precisely. “My foot sank into the clear water and met the rubbery resistance of something flexible but solid. I put more weight down. The illusion would not give. I put the full weight of my foot. Still I did not sink. Still I did not believe.” This doubting Thomas illusion mixes with the fact that it's an island that can consume you if you're not careful. Perhaps, if your faith is too easy and you no longer brave the stormy seas, then you're no longer experiencing real faith.