Life of Pi

If you have not read or seen Life of Pi, I highly suggest you do so before reading this analysis. I don’t want to spoil it! Also, it is important to remember that Life of Pi is a fictional story, so as to not get over-invested in fact-checking and critical analysis.

Last night my sister and I watched the film Life of Pi for the first time and were overwhelmingly impressed with how well it was done and how meaningful it was! Now I’m dying to read the book! I really enjoy books and movies that don’t just entertain me, but really captivate my thoughts and make me contemplate things I would not normally think of. Challenges are opportunities to become wiser!

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{My younger sister(left) and I enjoying our “Pi night”}

There were many intriguing topics within Life of Pi, but there were a few specific ones that seemed to jump out at me.

First of all, what really happened?

Obviously, some parts of Pi’s animal story were very illogical and cannot be backed by scientific evidence. Everything made sense up until the point at which Pi discovers the “Carnivorous island”, which resembles a large mangrove. The island is bountiful with plenty of food and water in the daytime, not to mention the millions of meerkats, but at night the pools of clean water become “acidic” and kills all of its inhabitants (the fish). Pi watches this reaction from a tree and subsequently notices a human tooth in what looks to be a plant similar to a lotus flower. This reminded what was said in Pi’s encounter with his first crush, Anandi:

“Pi Patel: None of the others dancers did that. What did you mean? The God of love is hiding in the forest?
Anandi: No, that also means the Lotus flower.
Pi Patel: Lotus flower is hiding in the forest? Why would a Lotus flower hide in the forest?”

Why would a lotus flower hide in the forest? The keyword here is “hide”. A lotus flower is beautiful and desirable, something one would desire to seek. What the flower contains though, the tooth, represents death. This could be easily linked with the way sin operates. It is beautiful and desirable, and people go out of their way to seek it. Eventually though, seeking sin will result in death, eternal death. God reveals to Pi what is inside the beautiful lotus flower in order warn Pi that what seemed to be a perfect oasis was actually a death trap, as it is with sin. One important thing to notice is the shape of the island, which at a distance resembles a body, in an eerie sarcophagus form.

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This leads me to my second assumption. When Pi tells his second story to the Japanese company, he tells it with such emotion and detail. Either Pi is a really good liar, or his second story is the truth while his entire first animal story was a metaphor for the things that actually happened. Of course, Pi says,“So tell me, since it makes no factual difference to you and you can’t prove the question either way, which story do you prefer? Which is the better story, the story with animals or the story without animals?”

I would prefer to believe the animal story. It sounds much more desirable, much cleaner, and much less barbaric. Unfortunately, I think that it is much more likely to be a metaphor. The monkey represented Pi’s mom, the zebra represented an Oriental sailor, the hyena represented the strange cook, and the tiger represented Pi.

The Japanese sailor injured his leg from jumping into the lifeboat. After a while, the cook feared for supplies and killed the man as Pi and his mom held the man down. Pi recalls, “So… I kept saying, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry’, but he just kept.. looking at me, his eyes so… I’ll never understand the point of that man’s suffering.” The cook used pieces of the man’s body as bait to catch a dorado, which angered Pi’s mom. The next day, Pi accidentally dropped a turtle that the cook had caught and was slapped across the face. This angered Pi’s mom even more, and she attempted to hit and punch the cook. Pi watched as the cook killed his mom with a knife and threw her overboard to the sharks. A short time later, Pi took the knife and killed the cook. He used the cook’s flesh as fish bait, doing to him what had been done to the sailor (meaning possible cannibalism). Pi says, “He was such an evil man, but worse still, he brought the evil out in me.”

Relating back to the carnivorous island, the shape of the island (a body) has a new significance. I read from one blogger, beerdoggler, “The island (cook) is teeming with life. The thousands of meercats represent the life-giving flesh of the island. But we see it’s shape is that of a sarcophagus, or mummy, or dead man … the cook. Pi eats the roots and seeds while Richard Parker eats the flesh of the island.” This may indicate that though killing the cook seemed like the right thing to do, Pi still feels guilty about indulging himself on something that he knows to be morally wrong – murder. He knows he has to move on from that place or he will eventually go insane. Another theory is that the island represents Pi’s view of life after he killed the cook.

One more thing about the island. I was intrigued that Yann Martel could make up such a place, so I did a little research. Apparently, the closest thing to what Martel describes is a small island in the Tyrrhenian Sea near Naples called Castello Aragonese. According to theepochtimes.com, “bubbles of carbon dioxide rise from volcanic vents on the seafloor and dissolve to form high concentrations of carbonic acid that make seawater corrosive. Like the floating island Pi and Richard Parker discover, the island of Castello Aragonese creates beds of vivid green sea grass and sustains swarms of translucent jellyfish and algae. Yet no other life survives in its waters.”

As far as the relation to religion goes, Pi states that there are 330 million God’s in the Hindu religion, the primary religion in India, followed by Islam and Christianity. One blogger, , proposes that many aspects of the story seem to represent several different Indian philosophical concepts.

“1. Metaphor: The island floating on the Pacific ocean.
Meaning: Vishnu, floating on the cosmic ocean (this imagery was shown at the beginning of the story).

2. Metaphor: The seemingly surreal happenings on the island.
Meaning: Our reality, which is a “dream” in the mind of Vishnu (this was also mentioned at the beginning of the story).

3. Metaphor: The carnivorous algae on which the island floats.
Meaning: Sesha, the five-headed snake on which Vishnu rests.

4. Metaphor: The numerous meerkats.
Meaning: Human beings. I know, what an unflattering metaphor! Possibly, they were chosen for their semi-bipedalism, semi-intelligence, social living, or some combination of similar reasons.

5. Metaphor: The island supports life by day, and causes death by night, again and again.
Meaning: Samsara, the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth – that which supports life, causes death, and that which causes death, supports life.

6. Metaphor: The meerkats live meaningless lives eating, running, and dying on the island, under the impression that this is all there is to reality.
Meaning: Maya / Avidya, the illusion about the false nature of reality, which ultimately arises due to ignorance, and causes people to be stuck in Samsara.

7. Metaphor: Pi realizes the true nature of the island, and recognizes its futility.
Meaning: Vidya / Sat / Chit, knowledge or consciousness of the ultimate truth, which dispels Maya, and enables one to achieve enlightenment and liberation.

8. Metaphor: Pi, recognizing the truth of the island, decides to leave it for good.
Meaning: Moksha / Nirvana, the ultimate liberation of one’s self from Samsara, so as to attain union with Vishnu (in Vaishnavism, a monotheistic Hindu religion), or union with God (in Sikhism, another monotheistic Hindu religion), or attain supreme character (in Jainism, an atheistic Hindu religion), or to attain supreme serenity (in Buddhism, another atheistic Hindu religion), or union with the supreme oneness (in Advaita Vedantism/Smartism, a monistic Hindu religion). This constitutes the soteriology of the major Hindu/Indian religions.”

There were many Christian principles that stuck out to me as well. In recalling the book’s version of Pi’s detailed account of the carnivorous island, he says, “My foot sank into the clear water and met the rubbery resistance of something flexible but solid. I put more weight down. The illusion would not give. I put the full weight of my foot. Still I did not sink. Still I did not believe.Shmoop.com points out, “Doesn’t that sound like “Doubting” Thomas from the New Testament touching Christ’s wounds in order to believe that he was resurrected from the dead? Or Saint Peter trying to walk on water after he sees Jesus do it?

But maybe the island doesn’t represent the type of faith Martel thinks we should have. Because, of course, the algae turns out to be man-eating algae. It’s an island that can consume you if you’re not careful. Meaning, if you appease yourself with physical comfort – all the food and drink you want – it turns into a type of spiritual death. If your faith is too easy and you no longer brave the stormy seas, then you’re no longer experiencing real faith.

Notice too that Pi really tames Richard Parker on the island. He has him jumping through hoops. Literally. Richard Parker, like the ocean, is part of Pi’s spiritual trial. What do you do when your spiritual test (a.k.a. Richard Parker) follows your every command? You leave:

By the time morning came, my grim decision was taken. I preferred to set off and perish in search of my own kind than to live a lonely half-life of physical comfort and spiritual death on this murderous island.

Hope this wasn’t a dull read, I understand that it is long! If you have any intriguing thoughts you would like to add, please comment! I love thinking about new ideas!

-Jordan

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8 thoughts on “Life of Pi

  1. That was a very good interpretation of the story. Thank you for sharing. My wife asked me when it was over, “when did he meet God”. I thought about that. At one point in the movie he totally gave in to God. This was when the storm was raging and the light shown thru the coulds. He then loosened the cords of the cover on the life raft. He was yelling at thetiger to look at God. But this in turn caused the tiger to almost die. Although this is just a movie this has vast implications on our own life. We must have peace in order to seek God with our spirit. We can not be afraid to let the tiger die. After all, his journey was to make peace with an animal that had no peace.
    Maybe he meet God long before he entered the boat, or maybe he never found God at all. This story can have endless interpretations. But much like our own walk with God, we must come to him first before we come to man, or else we will never truely find Him.

  2. hey, actually the metaphor of lotus refers to the women’s genitals. the forest refers to the pubic hair and lotus means the v**ina. i’m pro in indian cultures. the dance is called bharathanatiyam. the movements are referred as abinaya.

  3. That island I think was Lord Vishnu. As he’s floating on endless ocean. No one have ever seen that island as no one have ever seen god. Also, The island gave everything at day and take away at night like god give us life and all but takes it away when we die. Maybe it was trying to tell us that one should never deviate from their path for god because god is not our destination. One can come to it for peace but don’t loose your path. btw I have not read your ‘full’ review, but I’ve bookmarked it.

  4. You are a really smart girl..i never thought of it that way. Ive been searching meaning of this story and you explained it very well. Thank you.. 🙂

  5. Good writeup but you’re way off. Read some actual reviews, they make a whole lot more sense. You’re too young to get some parts. Like “the lotus flower is hiding In the forest”, and thrn she laughs, embarrassed. She’s referring to sex, she was vaguely hinting at romance between the two. Think about it…

  6. Wonderful commentary. I really like your interpretations and agree with them. I was thinking that maybe the locust flower also is a metaphor for the main character. In the buddhist religion, the locust Is a spiritual symbol, not as you imply a material one. The locust symbolizes mindfullness. Externally he appears pure like a locust but at the core he fears he is a cannibal and ‘bad’ person. However, his ‘bad’ part is hidden from the world. Therefore, he knows the world won’t judge him for what he’s done. The battle is for Pi to accept what he’s done and to live with himself.

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