Lost at Sea

"Some eat meat, some vegetarian. I do not expect us to agree about everything, but I would much rather have you believe in something I don't agree with, than to accept everything blindly." — Santosh Patel, "Life of Pi"

I think it was "The Matrix" that was the first movie where I really saw the influence of Post-Modernist thought. The Wachowskis, who made the film, included a lot of religious thought, images, phrases, and iconography in the film. It was intentional, and it was pervasive.

But it wasn't a particular religious view, rather they included pieces of Christianity, Hinduism, Eastern Mysticism, etc. to create a sort of theological stew for their worldview. At some points you could see Scripture verses, at other points there were literally characters — the Merovingian, for example — that refuted the typical Christian worldview. The film sought to be all-inclusive of religions and thought disciplines in creating its world. It was the embodiment of a Co-Exist bumper sticker.

"Life of Pi" doesn't approach things the same way — in fact it arguably has more reverence for religion than "The Matrix," but it doesn't have a fidelity to any particular religion. In fact, in the story, Pi calls himself a Hindu, Christian, and a Muslim.

In one crucial scene in the film, Pi's father comes back at him about using reason and science, but his mother talks about faith as a way to understand ourselves and our place in the world. His father, to some extent, accepts that, but urges his son not to accept everything blindly.

I feel like, in a sense, that is meant to portray his father as intolerant. But I think he has a point. It's hard to reconcile the differences in Hinduism, Christianity, and the Muslim faith and not see fundamental differences. If you accept all, do you really believe in anything.

There is a popular idiom that, "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything." I think you could add to that if you stand for everything, you don't really stand for anything. "Life of Pi" is very much a story about seeking faith, and having faith be our guide and our hope in tough times. But faith in what? Faith in whom? Pi seems to pray to Vishnu, Jesus Christ, and Allah interchangeably, to the point that it's reasonable to question whether he really has any faith at all.

Another fascinating aspect of the story is what we're to make of the events. When I first saw the film — and heard the dueling narratives at the end — the way that the movie is framed in terms of tone, I was inclined to believe that the story of his survival with a tiger was the true account, but people who lacked faith couldn't believe him. I saw it as, perhaps, a test of faith, in a sense.

I was fascinated by the story and moved by the exploratory nature of his faith search, so I picked up and read the book. Based on the tone in the written work, and based on the change of point of view, my fundamental understanding of the story changed. I think it's more clear in the book that, at the end, it is revealed that the second story — where Pi's mother survives the ship and is killed by the cook — is the true story, and the other is what he dreamed up to help him reconcile who he had to be to survive. Pi became the tiger — he became Richard Parker — and that is what it took for him to live. Letting go of Richard Parker when he reached Mexico was about seeing that part of himself leave.

That makes "Life of Pi" an even more fascinating narrative to consider. Either way it's a test of faith — but is it a test of faith for Pi, or a test of faith for the audience. Perhaps it depends on your perspective.


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