Over the weekend Eliot and I had the rare luxury of seeing a movie and we decided to see Life of Pi. We saw it in 3D which I am not sure was terribly necessary for the development of the movie; technology for technology sake doesn't always have the best outcome, however that is another blog and for this movie, it was fine. As the movie unfolded, the world religions teacher that lives in me began to conjure the possible lesson plans. Ironically, because of that very role once I posted on Facebook that we saw that movie, tons of people have asked me to explain what it means. At the risk of sounding trite, explaining the Life of Pi may be about the same as explaining life itself. Meaning, there is a lot of room for interpretation, and to quote our dear Sophist friend, Protagoras, "Man is the measure of all things." Fear not, that doesn't mean that I don't have two cents to add to that pile of coins. (yes, I do just make up idioms.)
In some ways, I think the movie illustrates the concepts of Hinduism very well. Especially in the beginning when Pi is discovering the beauty in the practice of various faith traditions. The idea that God sends his son to die for the world in Christianity, or the fulfillment of ritual prayer in Islam. Whether you believe it or not, the concepts are lovely. Hinduism allows for many paths. The understanding that God is within many vehicles; that we can encounter God in a variety of different ways is a powerful theology. Pi embraces that. However, the movie is about his struggle.
Pi and Richard Parker (the family tiger) get stuck on a tugboat together for what appears to be at least 6 months. The how or why or when are all for Ang Lee to tell when you go see the movie, nevertheless the symbolism of the struggle on that tugboat is what may need some defining. In some ways it is obvious, it is life. There are good days, when the stars in the sky are mirrored by the surrounding Pacific Ocean and they appear to be in a magical universe and there are other days that the blistering sun is scarring him no matter how much he attempts to shelter himself. Life. There are days that are terrific, magical, we are enriched by our loved ones and filled with hope. There are other days that are dark, sad due to loss, illness, aging, or suffering. Just as for Pi it is the strength of our character that reigns. How do we handle adversity? Do we define it or how does it define us?
At the end Pi survives, and so does Richard Parker. They have hit a seemingly safe shore and Pi falls onto the sand barely able to breathe. The tiger almost dead as well manages to get out of the boat and walks into a nearby jungle without looking back at Pi. It is that moment that Pi reflects over, why doesn't Richard Parker look at him? Why doesn't this animal realize that it was because of him that he survived at all? And this is what I pose, if Richard Parker, the tiger, the animal, symbolizes life's great struggle, then why would Pi want the beast to look back at him? Isn't it the best poetic justice for the beast to slip away? The struggle is over. It's done. The most we can hope for is that we survive life's beasts and the struggle fades. Sometimes life doesn't always do that. Some folks live with the suffering forever, I am certain that those individuals would happily hope for their beasts to vanish.
There is no doubt that for Pi, as well as for all of us, it is a story of triumph over beasts, or evil, that allow us to grow in magnitude. It is through our suffering that we tend to understand what is worth saving within us. Pi becomes a man, and I don't mean in the gender bias way, I mean that he becomes who he is meant to be. He grows into himself. He is different but in a good way. Suffering doesn't always do that for us because we fear what will happen when it just fades way. What are we left with? Life's greatest challenge is shaking off that sand from the shore and walking into your own sunset without chancing that tiger into the jungle.