Life of Pi: A Study of Subjectivity


Spencer Garrison, Writer, Editor

Life of Pi: A Study of Subjectivity


     “Life of Pi,” is a novel written by Yann Martel. The novel has also been adapted as a movie. I first encountered the story upon watching the movie and from there on I was enraptured. Aside from the beautiful visuals and captivating comedy, the story kept my attention for one reason. Throughout the movie the audience is provided with respites from the action in which the main character, Pi, gives commentary on the nature of religion. In fact, religion is a recurring motif throughout the story, and at the end we the viewers are left with one question to turn over and ponder. I was, from there, inspired to write this article discussing the ending of the movie version of “Life of Pi.”


     So what exactly is this profound story about? Well, it starts with an Indian boy named Piscine Molitor Patel, or Pi. Pi lived in a zoo when he was young, his father being a zookeeper. During his time in his hometown he encountered many different forms of religion. First, Hinduism through his mother. He was fascinated, although his more pragmatic father disagreed with the practice. Later he learned Christianity from a church on a hillside. He was taken in by a benevolent priest who kindly answered his questions about Christianity. Finally, Pi also learned Islam from a Muslim man in his home town. Pi lived a life of much contentment with his family and their zoo. It came to be, however, that his father acquired a Bengal tiger, aptly named Richard Parker due to a mix up between the man who had sold them the tiger in the first place. Although Pi was not aware of it yet, this tiger would become very important to him very soon. Despite living such an idyllic life in India, it came to be that his father decided it would be best to move to Canada for financial reasons. Pi’s father decided to take the zoo to Canada with the family. The Patel family was able to find a Japanese freighter willing to take their animals. During the journey, peril struck  and the entire ship sank. Unfortunately for Pi’s family, they were all caught in the water flooding the cabin and died. But Pi, having been up on deck, was able to escape to a lifeboat. During the catastrophe, three animals managed to sneak into Pi’s lifeboat with him, these animals being an orangutan, zebra, and hyena. The hyena eventually kills the zebra, and then the orangutan. Pi thinks he is all alone with the killer, when from under the small lifeboat’s tarpaulin bursts a tiger. The tiger is known as Richard Parker; he was recently imported into the zoo right before the launch of the ship. Making short work of the hyena, we are introduced into the true secondary character. The rest of the story details Pi’s comedic and spiritual endeavors living with a live tiger alone at sea. I really recommend watching this movie as it is truly a stunning and profound experience. The special effects were uncannily good, especially for a movie released almost a decade ago. Now however, it is time to discuss the ending of the movie. Severe spoiler warning ahead. 


     Pi finally arrives on shore at the end of the book after almost 70 days at sea. During his stay at the hospital, Pi divulges his story to employees from the shipping company helping to transport his family’s animals. The men do not accept Pi’s story, so he tells a grittier, more realistic one. In this retelling of events the zebra was replaced by a sailor, the orangutan by his mother, and the hyena by a psychotic cook. In this retelling, the cook butchers the sailor and eats him. Turning his sights on the mother, the cook ends up killing her a few days later. Then the cook, or the hyena, is killed by the tiger. But if the animals are humans in this story, then who is the tiger? The tiger is Pi. He confesses to killing the cook, for revenge, for survival? It doesn’t matter. The tiger represented Pi’s wild inner spirit. But then, Pi leaves us with a question, a thought: Both stories end with an Indian boy being found alone on the Mexican coast. There is no evidence to prove one or the other, and in the end the boy has ended up in the same place. So which one do you want to believe?


     I believe that Pi’s story is a commentary on religion, more precisely, the end of the book is. The author is expressing his views on god. I believe what he’s trying to say is that at the end of the day we’re all just living our lives and we have no real way of knowing what goes on beyond our perception. God is like what happened at sea; no one really knows for sure what happened. Pi says, well which story do you prefer? The story with the benevolent god, or the story with the cold, pragmatic world? Yann Martel, the author, is certainly advocating for religion here. However, I see more to the story. See, because there’s another aspect to this message. Everyone is equal in their experiences on Earth, no matter what beliefs they hold. We all experience the same struggles.

Regardless of any religious metaphors, ‘Life of Pi’ is still a beautiful movie and a smart story. Beautiful visuals combine with snarky humor- a recipe for what is an amazing story. I would 100% recommend this movie to anyone who asked. But to those who are there for the religious parallels, ‘Life of Pi’ is an amazing, thought-provoking movie about a journey through religion. In conclusion, ‘Life of Pi’ is a book meant for all to read, with a little bit of something for everyone.