Life of Pi is a movie which has certainly caught the attention of every movie goer in India. For literature enthusiasts like me, it is always interesting to see how a good work of fiction is translated on screen. I was largely skeptical and people who have read the novel might understand why. So here at Distracted Students, I decided to share with you all, my Life of Pi review.
Startlingly, adaptation of Life of Pi did something that no film adaptation had ever really done before. It interpreted and brilliantly adapted the unfolding of Pi Patel‘s story. And when I say brilliant, I mean literally brilliant. The 3D effects were utterly dazzling, and at some points of time, stunning. I mean that scene with the whale lunging out of sparkling water was something none of us would forget in a hurry.
But all these aside, the beauty of the movie Life of Pi and the story lies in the sheer ambiguity that it creates. It questions the very structures on which faith and belief is based. And more importantly, it questions our perception of what is reality. Sample this, there are two stories in the Life of Pi. One with the zebra, the orangutang, the hyena and of course, Richard Parker, the tiger, stranded on a lifeboat amidst the vast ocean. The other, which is said to be the more ‘believable’ one features the gruff cook, the timid sailor, the protective mother and Pi.
Equating the two stories in Life of Pi, we get the cook as the hyena, the sailor as the zebra, the mother is the orang-utang and there is Pi. The question that resounds is, WHO THEN IS RICHARD PARKER?
Before I go into an explanation, let us focus on the quote that the story begins with:
A story that will make you believe in God.
We have been already been introduced to Pi’s religious devotion and his true love in the Almighty, in whatever form he might exist. Alright now as to the question about who Richard Parker was in Life of Pi, let us refer to some significant lines. About the cook, Pi says, ‘What was worse, he brought out the evil in me’. The hyena (the cook) committed acts of savagery in the other tale. His savagery, in fact, brought the tiger out from the closet. And with a roar, he pounced on him and killed it.
It is safe to argue that there are certainly two Pis here. The religious devout worshipper Pi, for whom such an act of violence was never possible. And the other Pi, who takes a desperate step in a desperate condition and does not hesitate to do so.
Richard Parker in Life of Pi is the embodiment of the primitive animal instincts that lurks deep somewhere within every human being and which are kept in leash by civilization and religion. When provoked, when teased, it could emerge in even the timidest, the most civilized and the most pious of men. It was the ‘evil’ that Pi refer to.
Now, everything starts to fall in place. And now, one realizes that while declaring beforehand that this indeed is a story that would make one believe in God, it serves to do the very opposite. Beneath layers and layers of allegory, the author makes a veiled attack on religion, civilization and faith.
Startling isn’t it! Well now let us fit all pieces together now that we know who Richard Parker really is.
Pi clearly says that it was Richard Parker who made him survive those days in the vast ruthless ocean. It was for him that he took to fishing. Had he retained his religiosity he could not have killed even a fish. It was his animal instincts (Richard Parker) that helped him survive. There was no way he could overcome adversity otherwise. His praying on being successful in catching a fish evoked laughter from the audience. Did the author/director of Life of Pi intend the audience’s laughter? Was it then a ridicule of religious belief? Well it does seem to be so but the tone prevents us from saying it with certainty.
In the middle of the Life of Pi, there is a breathtaking episode of the floating island. This is particularly interesting. Praying ardently to God for survival, he came across a floating island full of prosperity. Meerkats, a pool of fresh water, green succulent vegetation, truly an island of wonders! And yet, and yet.
There is a very striking line in Pi’s description of the island. I misquote:
What the island gave him by day, it took away in the night.
What faith promised Pi, in the beginning of his life, it took it all away. What God promised him, love, prosperity, all was reversed in extreme adversity.
The island in Life of Pi too promised prosperity and well being. But it took away something more. A believer, deluded by the promises that faith gives to us, could end up the same as the human tooth in the fruit. Pi had the option to remain in wishful delusion and faith. But he did not. It is very noteworthy that he decided to leave the island, and that he reunited with Richard Parker before he left. He couldn’t rely on God while facing the ocean, he had to depend on his survival instincts.
When Pi Patel eventually reached the shore in Life of Pi, when he came back to civilization, Richard Parker left him. And that too, unceremoniously.
At the end of the Life of Pi, we have two stories. We could choose to believe in either. On being asked ‘Which story do you prefer?’, the writer replies, ‘The one with the tiger’ to which Pi retorts, “Same is with God”.
We CHOOSE TO BELIEVE in God. For faith provides us with false promises of future happiness. Sometimes, it is better to believe, for the grim reality of the world is sometimes too savage to be faced. It feels good to think that someone up there is in control.
The final report of the Japanese ship company published the story of the tiger, the zebra, the hyena and the orang-utang. The utter savagery and brutality of reality was perhaps too much. They, CHOSE to believe. It did not necessarily prove that the story was real.
Same is with God.
Now, does Life of Pi make you a believer? Well it depends, on what you choose. It could work both ways.
The author blogs at http://www.ourtrivialtales.wordpress.com