"And so it goes with God," main character Piscine (Pi) Patel says as he finishes the tale of his remarkable journey stranded at sea with a Bengal tiger. Director Ange Lee's movie, "Life of Pi," based on Yann Martel's bestselling book, is like its hungry tiger, breathtaking, ferocious and sometimes vulnerable-- an arresting palette of moving color and contrast searching the process of survival for a metaphor about the true nature of God. It is beautifully acted, crafted and photographed, leaving the soul of the story available for contemplation.
Young Pi is a religious dabbler who learned to swim by being thrown into a variety of pools by his Uncle who named him after the most luxurious of those pools. Pi renames himself using his math class to "create a better story" about the name when he recognizes it as a liability, foreshadowing his flexibility with facts, and his practical understanding of the nature of things. His brief family life in India with parents who believe in love, science and nature, even if not always God, informs his survival at sea when their fatal choice to relocate their family and zoo results in Pi's loss of everything except a white lifeboat, some supplies and four wild animals-- a hyena, an orangatang, a zebra and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. At least that is how one story goes.
Life of Pi may be a clever survival story, a tall tale, an excuse to see unimaginably artful photography and special effects, an exploration of God and nature, but it may also be interpreted as an unsentimental meditation about grief. The tiger, Richard Parker, "leaves [Pi unceremoniously]" as does his family and his life in India. Pi says in the novel, "What a terrible thing it is to botch a farewell. I am a person who believes in form, in the harmony of order. Where we can, we must give things a meaningful shape...I tell you that is one thing I hate about my nickname, the way the number runs on forever. It's important in life to conclude things properly."(p. 285) The adult Pi in the book and the movie encourages his audience to "choose the better story," maybe the one that helps us to survive, whether we be Catholic, Hindu, Muslim, some other religion or non-religious. Some reviewers found the book and the movie's discussion of the premise that the story will "make you believe in God," pretentious, yet if one chooses to examine the threads of meaning beyond the glorious cinematography and uniqueness of the tale, one's personal story about God is exposed. We see him looking at us from somewhere in the clouds, his cheek hidden in the fine scientific construct of nature, embodied in the fearful instinctual connection to those we survive to care for. At very least, arguably "the better story." And so it goes with God, this story shapes meaning around losses, creates a container for suffering, highlights the absoluteness of form, the underlying order in chaos.