Nov 30 2012

ReThink Reviews: Life of Pi

Rethink ReviewsTaking a deeper look at current and past films and how they relate to the world today.

Jonathan Kim is an independent film critic who writes and produces film reviews for Uprising and other outlets. He is a former co-producer at Brave New Films.

Read his reviews online at Watch his videos at, and follow him on Twitter at ReThink Reviews’ theme song is by Restavrant.

Life of Pi

The film ‘Life of Pi’ is directed by Ang Lee and is based on the award-winning, best-selling 2001 book of the same name by Yann Martel about an Indian teenager named Pi who spends 227 days stranded on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. That’s pretty much the whole story, and since it’s being told in flashback by an adult Pi, you know that Pi survives. But Pi’s journey is supposedly more than just a tale of survival, since, as Pi tells an inquisitive writer, it’s a story that will make you believe in God. That would be quite an accomplishment since first, I don’t believe in God, and second, ‘Life of Pi’ strikes me as a story that doesn’t prove the existence of God, but actually argues the exact opposite.

Irrfan Khan plays the adult Pi who now lives in Canada with his family and is telling his story to a struggling writer, played by Rafe Spall. Pi tells the writer about his childhood growing up in Pondicherry, India, where he became interested in Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism, and his dad owned a zoo, which included a tiger named Richard Parker. Pi’s dad decides to move the family and sell off the zoo’s animals, but the ship they’re taking to Canada sinks in a storm, leaving a teenage Pi (played by first-time actor Suraj Sharma) on a lifeboat with several animals, including Richard Parker.

Thus begins a tale of survival, with Pi trying to figure out how to coexist with Richard Parker while attempting to keep both of them alive through rough seas, starvation, dehydration, encounters with marine life, and perhaps a bit of magic realism. All this is done with beautiful computer-generated 3D imagery, including state-of-the-art technology melding real and CG tigers that I found, for the most part, to be totally believable.

With ‘Life of Pi’’s promises of spiritual discovery, its main character being a half-naked Indian boy who hangs out with a tiger, the fact that the book’s author is a white Canadian man, and its popularity amongst western New Age readers, one might expect ‘Life of Pi’ to traffic in the sort of orientalist fetishism of eastern religions that has become fashionable along with yoga and meditation. But for better and worse, ‘Life of Pi’ isn’t that specific, since with just a few adjustments, it seems like Pi and his family could come from any country with zoos.

However, this lack of specificity complicates the film’s central theme that Pi’s story is one that will make you believe in God. ‘Life of Pi’ never digs in to the truly messy aspects of religion, like the contradictions between Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam that would make it hard for Pi to harmoniously believe in all three. Are the gods of these religions supposed to be the same one, and why would he sink a boat full of innocent people and animals? Isn’t the natural beauty Pi witnesses while at sea, like a school of flying fish and blooms of bioluminescent algae, better explained by science and evolution than the creative whims of a magic sky monster? And if mass drownings don’t complicate the notion of a benevolent, unifying God, there’s a twist near the end that if anything, would confirm that if there is a God in control, he’s a cruel, sadistic jerk.

Maybe the book of ‘Life of Pi’ does a better job of hitting the right faith buttons, and this isn’t to say that ‘Life of Pi’ is even a bad movie. It’s visually interesting to watch, the performances are good, I never knew what would happen next (other than Pi surviving), and I think it’s great that a major studio threw a big budget behind a movie with a weird story like this with no major stars. But in the end, ‘Life of Pi’ is more about the nuts and bolts of a teenager surviving at sea and bonding with a tiger than a spiritual quest that asks hard questions about the wisdom, will, and existence of God and why he seems to enjoy inflicting so much suffering and death on unoffending humans. In the end, ‘Life of Pi’ not only doesn’t answer any of religion’s big questions, it doesn’t even ask them.

‘Life of Pi’ is rated PG and is in theaters now.

13 responses so far

13 Responses to “ReThink Reviews: Life of Pi”

  1. Andreon 30 Nov 2012 at 12:49 pm

    I respect your opinion. The question of why God allows suffering is a tough one for people but allowing something to happen is a lot different than being responsible for something. If God eventually rights all of the wrongs, which a strong faith will lead you to that conclusion, how can we ever question his will. Just keep your heart and mind open you will come to know the truth if you’re sincere in your search!!!!!! After watching the beautiful creation in that movie how could you not believe in a beautiful God!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It’s actually inexcusable!!

  2. Radha Vyason 30 Nov 2012 at 3:30 pm

    Kim, you missed the whole point of the movie, and you do have some specific notions about God, and that is why you were disappointed …, it does not work that way …, you have seen the surface of the movie, please watch the movie one or couple of more times and do a retrospection of the movie, the characters Pi, Richard Parker and include yourself in that retrospection …, and then you will find the beauty of the film. Ang Lee did get it, in fact he states it in one of the interviews …, and if you still are not swayed by it, then watch it when after couple of decades …, it is not revelation of God …, it is the beauty of …,

  3. Jim Ingallson 30 Nov 2012 at 3:57 pm

    I had a completely different take on the movie than either Jonathan or Andre got. In my view, the film was not trying to answer the question, how can there be a god when horrible things happen. It was arguing that people sometimes need to believe in (or wind up believing in) a god (or gods) to help them deal with horrible things. In the case of the horrors experienced by Pi, the only way he could keep his sanity was to craft an alternative inverted story of his journey, converting murderous humans into “wild” animals and nature into personified islands, angry storms, and friendly meerkats.

    This point is made most explicitly when the journalist says he likes the story about the tiger better than the other (true) one, and Pi says “so it is with God”. The author and filmmaker are saying that religion gives us a way to see the world that works for us, a picture of how things are that we like. The film held back from bludgeoning us with this point, and left it up to each viewer to interpret what we saw in our own way, frankly, to delve as deeply as we were comfortable with into the unreality of the tiger story.

    I did not take the tiger story literally, or I suspended disbelief for a while because I enjoyed doing so. That, after all is the point of myths and stories. Or it should be.

  4. Graysonon 30 Nov 2012 at 5:42 pm

    This movie was so beautiful to watch regardless what your spiritual belief is or what the lesson you learned from this movie was. Everyone has a valid argument here it all depends where you are in your life. I think as your life changes you might see this movie in a different light. I think that is the beauty of it. I’m a really picky guy when it comes to movies and I think this one was so good and it reminded me of what makes life so beautiful whether you believe in God or not you can’t deny that. Regardless of the evil that exists the good always triumphs!

  5. PESCHAU7on 30 Nov 2012 at 8:44 pm

    I wanted to share my experience in getting the answer to the very question that Mr. Kim has asked. If there is a God then why…? A friend and I went out for lunch. She and I had both struggled with fertility issues for several years. Meanwhile my younger unmarried, unemployed, emotionally and financially unstable sister was pregnant with her third child. My friend asked how I could communicate with her and keep such a positive attitude I mentioned that I believed in Gods will etc and had faith. She asked me why Good things happend to bad people and bad things happen to good/innocent people etc. I didn’t know the answer. A few hours later we were in a line at wal mart; I happened to look over and saw a magazine cover that read exactly the question she asked
    The answer I read was this…God promised free will. By people having free will it sometimes allows people to become victims of circumstance. God never promised eternal life on earth without suffering. God is not a puppet master and to think of how boring and predictable life would be if he were.

  6. Cristinaon 01 Dec 2012 at 5:25 pm

    The point of the story is that God is not the reason things happen. He does not manipulate humans. In the Old Testament, life revolved around sacrificing to God. His presence was very real. However, his people stilled sinned and did not have a correct way of how to behave outside of how to worship God. God sent his son to become the very last sacrifice, lamb. God wants us to live in community, help one another. God is always present but not “interfering”. Things happen to people, weather good or bad.
    The movie states that the lion gave Pi a reason to live and survive. He looked outside of himself to continue living and acting in unselfish manner. That is why he did not force the lion off the boat and saved him. When a human does not have something to life for, that is when all is lost.
    Loved the film! Loved the book!

  7. iksfopilnekon 01 Dec 2012 at 6:09 pm

    I didn’t see any dwelling on any religion in the movie it was more about survival, faith and hope in ones self/friends. It included some of the best cinematography ever produced to date.

  8. writeladyon 01 Dec 2012 at 10:51 pm

    I agree with Jim Ingalls. The point of the story is not the existence of “God” or gods, and not the “why do bad things happen…” question. The point is that we believe in whatever version of the story makes us feel better. “And so it is with God.” We believe in whatever version of a deity makes us feel better.

  9. joshon 02 Dec 2012 at 10:44 pm

    Hmmm…I’m trying to be nice, but that was a truly pathetic reveiew! You had the same take-aways as my 8 year old daughter. Sad, but true. Many of the responses attempt to shed some light on the point of the story.

  10. joshon 02 Dec 2012 at 10:56 pm


  11. Von 03 Dec 2012 at 12:35 am

    One way to generate a lot of responses is to have a contrary opinion – however, in this case, it might be that you had a completely different take on an incredibly and delicately delivered movie, that takes on probably the most complex subject on planet Earth – one’s spirituality and connection to nature and that of human co-existence.

    No-one here claims to know the answer you are seeking, a proof, but, we do have a version of that we believe to be the truth.

  12. Ella wanon 17 Dec 2012 at 9:38 am

    God or no God? I think God could careless about this argument. With so much passion and love, Ang Lee opened the door for us to reflect rather than react….this is what life is about.

  13. Russellon 17 Dec 2012 at 3:57 pm

    The film did not set out to prove the existence of god. It didn’t even say it would make you, the viewer, believe in god. What it said was that within the film the story would make the writer believe in god. The writer was given two choices – he chose to believe in the tiger (and hence in god). So the film delivered on its promise.