Life of Pi: That Ending Interpreted
The Life of Pi, is based on Yann Martel’s well known novel of the same name. The story revolves around Piscene Molitor Patel (Pi) a fifteen-year-old son of a zookeeper in India who survives a shipwreck for 227 days with nobody but a Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker to keep him company.
Since the story of Life of Pi is well known and the Ang Lees movie does great justice of keeping to the key themes in Martels novel, this will be more of an analysis of the ending rather than a review of the movie itself.
The movie itself is shot in a surrealist tone that must be seen purely for its visual palette alone, From the opening scenes in India, the audience is whisked away into a land of colour and fantasy, which sets the tone for the movie post shipwreck, where the visual effects used in the ocean alone warrant the purchase of a movie ticket.
To Begin i must give you a run down of the story itself; In keeping with the novel Ang Lee has filmed the movie in the same 3 stage subplot;
- The first section deals with a struggling writer who has come to an adult Pi as he has heard about a story which will make him believe in God. Pi reminisces about his childhood in Pondicherry India where he recalls how he got his name and his upbringing in the family owned zoo. The movie focuses on Pi’s struggle to accept one religion and how he tries to understand God through the lens of each religion, learning to understand the benefits in each one.
- The second part of the movie deals with Pis family embarking to Canada after his father decides to sell their zoo, We meet the characters of the ship which are quickly forgotten about until later in the movie, prior to a storm hitting which results in the ship capsizing. Fortunately Pi escapes in a lifeboat with a weird mixture of animals, a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan and a Bengal Tiger. In true Darwinian style the animals are taken out one by one until only the tiger aptly named Richard Parker after an administrative mistake and Pi remains,
Much of the movie deals with a frightened Pi trying to survive alongside Richard Parker until eventually the tiger learns to tolerate Pi’s presence and they both live in the boat, Pi recounts various events while adrift, including discovering an island of carnivorous algae inhabited by meerkats and the story of how After 227 days, the lifeboat washes up onto the coast of Mexico and Richard Parker immediately escapes into the nearby jungle.
- In the third and most powerful part of the story, two officials from the Japanese Ministry of Transport speak to Pi to ascertain why the ship sank. When they do not believe his story, he tells an alternative story of human brutality, in which Pi was adrift on a lifeboat with his mother, a sailor with a broken leg, and the ship’s cook, who killed the sailor and Pi’s mother and cut them up to use as bait and food. We flash forward to the future where the writer meeting with Pi makes the connection that the orangutan represents his mother, the zebra represents the sailor, the hyena represents the cook, and Richard Parker is Pi himself.
After giving all the relevant information, Pi asks the writer which story he prefers and it is at this point that the audience is left with so many questions. The purpose of the story, which could easily be forgotten, was that the writer was promised a story that would make him believe in God. What we are presented with however is a story of a young boy who struggles with his faith but acknowledges the differences between all religions whether they be right or wrong.
Ultimately it is the ‘truth’ behind Pi’s story that provides the audience with his final question, The question of which story do you prefer? signifies the ideolody of interpretation and ultimately leads the writer and the japanese officials to wonder whether they believe in things that must be physically seen to believed or whether that they prefer to believe in faith and the unimaginable.
As you delve into the second story it makes it quite easy to believe that Pi created the 1st story with the animals in order to protect himself psychologically.
Ultimately Pi survives, but in order to do so he had to adapt to his circumstances which meant he probably went against his faith and killed animals to survive and yes he may have even resorted to some cannibalism. In the Human version of the story Pi does not mention his other adventures at sea but it is easy to strip away the fantasy and start picturing the reality, ie The carnivourous island which was never seen again had pink flesh and a tooth inside of it, which can easily be taken by the audience to be a representation of the cannibalism that occurred on the boat. This scenario itself would act as a catalyst for Pi’s need to escape from reality, When you think about it rationally it’s highly improbable that any of the animals would have made it to the upper decks in time to escape, much less end up in a lifeboat.
It also explains why Richard Parker does not turn around to make a farewell gesture to Pi, this is because Richard Parker never really leaves him, Pi and Richard Parker are one and the fight that we are shown between the Tiger and Pi signifies Pi’s human self fighting with his animal side to stop from turning into a cannibal for survival. We are shown that as the two join together in peace, PI is fed and nourished from the carnivorous island (ie the act of cannibalism) The ending showing Richard Parker walking head first into the forest without turning around signifies the disappearance of Pi’s animalistic side, Here we see Pi head into the world with a mentality of leaving all that has happened behind him.
Pi is burdened with a heavy challenge in telling a story that will make a person believe in God, Whilst many will walk away unconvinced the answer is stirring in the ending all along, When queried as to which story he preferred the writer admits he prefers the story with the tiger, as did the Japanese men who remark in their report that Pi has achieved a record feat of surviving 227 days at sea, with a Bengal Tiger. There is no question of truth behind the two stories rather than a question of preference. Pi has only told 1 story, he has just told it in two different ways which has resulted in those who are skeptical of his story believing in the unbelievable, which in theological terms is the cornerstone and biggest hurdle of Faith.