Review: Life of Pi (movie), Faith, and Doubt

We finally watched the Life of Pimovie. I was hesitant…sort of. For our first Christmas, Michael and I drove from Santa Barbara, CA out to Durango, CO to meet up with his family for a ski vacation. I have good and bad memories of that drive because I was horribly sick with my first pregnancy (I think I would have been about 12 weeks then, but I was sick right up till about 20-some weeks that time) and long car rides and not being able to lie down were awful. But the scenery! We drove through the desert, and then Monument Valley on our second day. Love, love, love all the wide open space, big sky, and lonely roads.

Anyway, before leaving, we purchased a few books on CD to listen to, and Life of Pi was one of them. I enjoyed the story telling right up until the end, when I was left really confused. Somehow (maybe in breaking up the story between driving to, and driving from Durango) I missed the whole point. And my memory may be failing me…maybe the book doesn’t draw it out as clearly as the movie did. I really can’t remember. I’d like to actually read (not listen) to the book, now.

If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, and think you might, I want to warn that there may be some spoilers if you read on.

At the beginning, Pi says he is going to tell his visitor (a writer who is looking for something to write) a story that will make him believe in God.

So, Pi tells a beautiful, enchanting story about first his upbringing in India, and the story of his faith. He grows up Hindu, then becomes a Christian (without forsaking Hinduism), then finally also becomes a Muslim. His father tells him that this is ridiculous. You can’t believe all the things! But somehow this boy synthesizes his own version, incorporating all three. While I think his father was right, that you can’t just believe everything, the thing that you really start to like about Pi is that his religion is not just an outward motion, but he is very real when he prays. His observations about Christianity and especially the incarnation are really very honest and moving.

What happens next is that Pi’s family decides to sell their zoo and move to Canada. I’m not exactly sure of all the details, but some of the animals are to be sold later (?) and are being taken with them to Canada. They get passage on a ship (the same ship with all the animals). One night, the ship sinks and in the chaos, Pi ends up on a life boat with a zebra, an ape, a hyena, and a Bengal tiger, whose name is Richard Parker.

His story is incredible. He survives for over 100 days on this life boat with the tiger. In a very hopeless moment, Pi looks up to heaven and cries out, “what do you want with me?” He tells God to do whatever he wants with him. And then the next scene they have run aground (ish) on a floating island. Here he’s able to recharge & recover. Because of the dangers he encounters there, he gets Richard Parker (tiger bff) back on board, and they set out again in hopes of being rescued.

Eventually, completely exhausted, dehydrated, nearly starved to death, they run aground again, but this time he is found shortly after Richard Parker abandons him, and escapes into the wild.

He asks the writer what he thinks of the story, and the writer admits that it’s a lot to take in. Right? I mean, you survived for.ev.er. with a tiger then found an floating island that no one has ever heard of. But he insists it’s true. Pi explains that when he was found, he told his story to some insurance men (something to do with a claim on the sunken ship) and they didn’t believe it at all. They kept insisting that it was impossible. So he told another story. This time, there were no animals. There were a few people, who killed each other. A much darker, simpler story. He was the last of that group to survive. Still an amazing survival. But which one is true?

Pi asks the writer friend that if both stories have no witnesses, details cannot be proven, etc., which story does he prefer? The writer admits that the first story (the tiger one) is the better story. And Pi says, “So it goes with God.” Then when the writer meets Pi’s family and says, “so your story does have a happy ending,” Pi responds, “It’s your story now.”

And this time, I get it. Pi is saying that it’s the same with our world and the question of God’s existence. You really can’t prove by some scientific standard that He does or doesn’t exist. But there is something very human in wanting to believe the better story. It is human to look for meaning behind our stories, our suffering, etc.

On this topic, the Catechism if the Catholic Church says:

33 The human person: with his openness to truth and beauty, his sense of moral goodness, his freedom and the voice of his conscience, with his longings for the infinite and for happiness, man questions himself about God’s existence. In all this he discerns signs of his spiritual soul. The soul, the “seed of eternity we bear in ourselves, irreducible to the merely material”, can have its origin only in God. (CCC, 33).

The draw of the first story can be compared to the desire for justice in the world, the hope for better things, the search for beauty, and as explained by the Church is itself a sort of proof of the existence of God. These longings are not human weakness, but are in fact glimmers of our ideal selves, our selves that are made in the image and likeness of God (who is, Himself, true, good, beautiful, just, merciful, & beautiful).

Yes, sometimes we doubt. We wonder, what if that other story is the true? Sure, with the other story, you don’t believe that there was a floating island or that God became a man just so he could die like a criminal. These are pretty incredible. But they sure do give us an answer to why we are here in the first place.

Did you watch Life of Pi? What did you think?

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2 comments

  1. Lacey Michael · · Reply

    I did watch the movie and thought it was gorgeous! I was a little bothered by the end because I wanted so badly to believe in the first story he presented. I didn’t like the idea of it being real people and such. I think you are right, though, that its a human thing to doubt and to want to believe there is more to life.

    1. Michael mentioned Okham’s Razor & that the second explanation would be simpler and therefore the more believable. Of course I also don’t really think it’s a perfect example of faith & doubt. But perhaps a starting point of dialogue? In the Church we have a much more historic (with witnesses!!!) account. Not only a pretty story.

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