Hello Everyone, the Healer of Souls here.
This is very long so my apologies in advance (I usually write long essays even for short reflections).
I recently saw the movie "Life of Pi" and I thought that not only it was an amazing storyline with epic special effects, it is the best brain candy for any spiritual or soul-seeking individual like me with its religious themes. From what i gather in other fora, it seems that Pi is one of the few movies which try to stay as faithful to the book as possible, personally having never read the book previously or since. (I'm hoping to get the book soon though). Therefore I can assume that an analysis of the movie will be as close to an analysis of the book that i will ever be able to get to without actually reading it. It should be noted that this story contains many religious references (Especially to noah's ark, Jewish Kabbalah, Sufism and Hinduism) as well as multiple parallels with other movies past.
For those who have not seen it (I highly reccomend it, and I don't want to give anyone spoilers, so this is just a general introduction) essentially a young Tamil boy named Pi living in post-Independence Pondicherry (a former French enclave), Southern India is faced with having to leave his home country and move to Canada by ferry for political reasons (Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's political proclamation of emergency of '77 which has been criticized for justifying political persecution during the last years of her controversial tenure). Since his parents own a zoo, Pi is able to learn to communicate (to a certain degree) with animals. He also grows an interest in spirituality, indulging himself in the pluralistic and tolerant Indian atmosphere where he remains a Hindu but adopts Catholicism and Islam as well. These are very important in his future journey, in which he will be faced to combat not only his inner savagery but that of his animals as well, relating to his life-and-death struggle with his tiger Richard Parker.
This Bengal tiger (who is mistakenly identified by the zookeeper as Richard Parker after his name "Thirsty" is swapped with that of his owner, the real tiger hunter Richard Parker--this will become important later) is the centrepiece of the latter part of the story, and his struggle with this fearsome creature is an epic struggle of brotherhood and survival against all odds. Near the end of the story, there are essentially two versions-one containing animals and one containing his family members, which investigators seem to think are represented by the animals as a coping mechanism, the tiger representing his struggle with himself. The central story thus is open ended and leaves the audience/reader to decide: Which is the true story? The animal or human one?
(As a side note, many people observed that this story contains a message about belief--you believe what you wnat to be true. Ironically, many religious people have said that it is a message about why you should believe in God, while athiests have often said that the message is why believing in God is nothing more than a coping mechanism, thus proving the message of the fiction itself within the context of a meta-fiction! Another meta-fiction with religious-existential themes closely correlating with Samuel Beckett's play Waiting for Godot in which both the audience and the characters are waiting for a mysterious figure named Godot who never appears.)
This is very important because later on in the story, his older brother Ravi dares him to drink holy water in a church. When he is caught by a priest, the priest gives him a glass of water, saying "YOU MUST BE THIRSTY." I'm not sure if anyone else noticed this but this might be a hint that the second story with the humans is true because he is not only literally Thirsty the tiger, he is thirsty for an ocean of spiritual knowledge (those who have seen the movie/read the book will understand the pun!). Another argument which triggered this idea (unfortunately I can't find the source so if i find it i will post it) was that Richard Parker and Thirsty had their name switched, and early on in the movie we learn that Pi's original name was Piscine Molitor (named after a famous swimming pool in Paris) but was taunted in school as "Pissing Molitor" so he changed it to Pi and became the local math whiz kid, memorizing Pi to some hundred figures. Since their names were both switched, by allegory, one must be symbolic and the other must be literal.
Finally, another piece of evidence to support the "human" story is that if Richard Parker represented his animal side, it was said in another source (which I also can't remember unfortunately) is that on his way to Canada he returns to civilization after weeks in the wild, he arrives in Mexico--his first encounter back with civilization. As soon as he reaches the Mexican coast, Richard Parker is seen walking thourgh the jungle (of the unconscious) without saying goodbye. In retrospect, Pi narrates that he was at the same time a mortal enemy of Richard Parker and at thes ame time couldn't have survived living in the wild without him. Richard Parker returns to the natural habitat (after being tamed, to a certain extent, by Pi) which symbolizes the unconscious recollecting the primitive animalistic Id after the return to civilization.
Interestingly enough, the ship carrying the family is not also an animal cargo ship (an obvious reference to Noah's Ark) but is also a Japanese model known as "Tsemtsum", a Hebrew word meaning contraction. This is directly taken from the Wikipedia entry on Tzimtzum, an important Jewish Kabbalist concept sure to enlighten many seeking answers to the "problem of evil" which is also a central theme of the story:
"In Chabad Hassidism, on the other hand, the concept of Tzimtzum is understood as not meant to be interpreted literally, but rather to refer to the manner in which God impresses His presence upon the consciousness of finite reality : thus tzimtzum is not only seen as being a real process but is also seen as a doctrine that every person is able, and indeed required, to understand and meditate upon.
In the Chabad view, the function of the Tzimtzum was "to conceal from created beings the activating force within them, enabling them to exist as tangible entities, instead of being utterly nullified within their source". The tzimtzum produced the required "vacated space" (chalal panui חלל פנוי, chalal חלל), devoid of direct awareness of God's presence.
Here Chassidut sheds light on the concept of Tzimtzum via the analogy of a person and his speech. (The source of this analogy is essentially Genesis Chapter 1, where God "spoke" to create heaven and earth.):
In order to communicate, a person must put aside all that he knows, all his experiences, and all that he is, and say only one thing ("the contraction"). This is especially the case when we speak of an educator, whose level of mind and understanding is almost completely removed and incomparable to his student, that has to "find" an idea that is simple enough to convey to the student. However, when he goes through this process and now is choosing to express himself through this particular utterance, he has not in any way lost or forgotten all the knowledge of who he really is ("thus the contraction is not a literal contraction").
(Furthermore, the one who hears his words also has the full revelation of who that person is when he hears those words, though he may not realize it. If the listener understood the language and was sensitive enough, he would be able to pull out from those words everything there is to know about the person.)
So too, God chose to express Himself through this world with all of its limitations. However, this does not mean, as pantheism posits, that God is limited to this particular form, or that God has "forgotten" all He can do. He still "remembers what He really is", meaning that He remains always in His infinite essence, but is choosing to reveal only this particular aspect of Himself. The act of Tzimtzum is thus how God "puts aside" His infinite light, and allows for an "empty space", void of any indication of the Divine Presence. He then can reveal a limited finite aspect of his light (namely our imperfect, finite reality).
(As clarified before, if man were spiritually sensitive enough, we would be able to see how God is truly giving us a full revelation of His infinite self through the medium of this world. To a listener who does not understand the language being spoken, the letters are "empty" of any revelation of the person. In the analogue this means that the world looks to us to be "empty" of Godly revelation. Kaballah and Chassidus, however, teaches one how to meditate in order to be able to understand God's "language" so that one can see the Godly revelation in every aspect of creation.)" (Source: Tzimtzum - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
Of course, there are many other pieces of evidence from the storyline which prove either case but I don't want to spoil anyone who hasn't seen the movie or read the book. Nevertheless, I'd like to start a debate about which of the two stories covered by the investigators at the end of the movie is true (or at least is more likely, because both versions contain inexplicable events), as well as what is the central message of the movie.
My apologies again if this was a bit long but hopefully people will find this topic interesting.