Non-fiction? Or just a tale?
Set it all aside, settle into your seat, with your 3D glasses and get ready to be swept away into an exotic, colorful adventure of the mind, body and spirit, as parakeets fly around you in the theater (well, not really) at the new Century Napa Valley Cinemark.
Introducing "The Life of Pi" in XD format with Dolby surround sound.
"Is it a true story?"
Who cares? That's not the point.
What is the point?
The point is for you to decide the meaning of the story yourself at the end. I can tell you what I think. Warning: Don't read any further if that will spoil it for you.
First, bear with me through a summary and some of the best lines in this story, which is touted as being able to "make you believe in God."
A teenage boy's family in India encounters tough economic times and is forced to leave the country. The family owns a zoo. In order to start again in Canada, they board a freight ship, with their animals, for a long journey. For unknown reasons, the freighter sinks—but guess what? By some stroke of (choose your own interpretation: good fortune, karma, luck, God—whichever one you believe in) Pi is the only human survivor. Now add this: at the last minute, a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena and, ahem, a Bengal tiger (named Richard Parker) jump into the life raft with him. I kid you not.
The lead character, Pi, is played by Suaraj Sharma who is beautiful to watch. This movie is a sensory delight, with India's love of flowers and dance, the sounds of sitar wafting through and candles floating on the water.
There are scenes in which an orange and blue sky with white clouds is reflected so perfectly in the calm ocean that the viewer doesn't know if Pi's raft is in the sky or on the water—a perfect visual metaphor for the way life can appear as one thing but actually be another, and how we float, at times, in a tender delicate balance of "reality" ... a place between places. These scenes are sweet, silent and meditative—a welcome respite from the carnivorous drama.
Pi survives 227 days at sea. One by one, each animal is eaten. Pi becomes the remaining prey for Richard Parker, and so Pi must learn to "train" him.
During the movie, I was reminded of the saying, "Whatever doesn't kill you, makes you stronger."
As a strange coincidence this week, someone asked me a riddle: "Who would you rather live with: a foolish friend or a wise enemy?"
I said "a wise enemy, because at least I could figure him out and learn from him. Wisdom is always useful."
And so it is for Pi, living with his wise enemy. Enemies do what they feel they need to do. This is the tiger's nature.
Day after day on the wide ocean, Pi pulls out all stops in a battle of wits with the creature that seeks to kill him. After many days, the tiger lies with his head in Pi's lap nearly dying from hunger, as Pi strokes him.
In the end, they survive, and Richard Parker walks into the jungle without looking back. It breaks Pi's heart, because he had come to know him as his friend.
My favorite lines:
Ravenous Pi manages to catch a big, slippery, iridescent green fish. He hauls it onto his raft and repeatedly beats it in the head with an ax, until its life departs from its beautiful body. Then he weeps with guilt and cries out, "Thank you Vishnu for coming in the form of a fish and saving our lives!"
When the much older Pi is having lunch with a reporter, telling him his story, he pauses and bows his head. When the reporter comments on his mix of Hindu and Catholic religions, Pi says, "I have 300 gods to feel guilty about."
Ok, now the point, as I see it.
When the investigators from the freighter company come to the hospital to get Pi's story about the ship sinking and his survival, Pi tells the story of Richard Parker and the rest of the menagerie. The men don't believe him. They say, "Tell us the truth."
"Oh," Pi says, "You mean you want a story that has no surprises in it, nothing that you haven't seen before?"
"Yes," they say.
"Ok," says Pi, and tearfully rattles off a completely different story about himself onboard a life raft with a cast of characters including the boorish, sweaty cook and Pi's mother. One by one they die, just like the original story. He is totally believable telling each story. There is even some kind of document that might possibly lend credence to the first one. But the men believe only the second story.
Many years later, when Pi tells the reporter this at lunch, the man asks, "Ah, so you are the real Richard Parker and your mother is ..."
Pi says yes.
"But which story is true?"
"Which story do you like?" asks Pi.
"I think I like the one with the Bengal tiger," the reporter says.
"And so it is with God," replies Pi.
We can take the movie at face value as an adventure, but for those who prefer to look at the spiritual: "God" (replace with "truth" or "wisdom" if you will) can come to us in any form in which we can accept the "lesson" (read "message," "wisdom," "story," "person," "spirit," "religion"—whatever you want to call it.)
I once interviewed a minister who considered the Bible metaphorical rather than infallible, and he said most people don't understand that. I asked him, "What is the point of conveying a message in metaphor and parables?"
He answered, "Why do we read poetry? It tells a truth that can’t be told by any other means. There's certain ancient wisdom that can only be told in story format."
Pi gained wisdom from various belief systems and saw the "God" in a fish.
If you go, allow the movie to linger with you the rest of the day.
This is an exquisite work on so many levels.
Award winning book by Yann Martel. Movie direction by Ang Lee.
TELL US: Have you seen the movie? Will you go see it? How does it compare with the book? What point did you take away? Tell us in the comments.