The Inner Meaning of the "Life of Pi" Book/Movie

The Inner Meaning of the "Life of Pi" Book/Movie

View Poll Results: Which, if any, of the two stories is correct?

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  • Animal Story is True

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  • Human Story is True

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  • Both Stories are True

    1 33.33%
  • Neither Stories are True

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This is a discussion on The Inner Meaning of the "Life of Pi" Book/Movie within the Critical Thinking & Philosophy forums, part of the Topics of Interest category; Hello Everyone, the Healer of Souls here. This is very long so my apologies in advance (I usually write long ...

  1. #1

    The Inner Meaning of the "Life of Pi" Book/Movie

    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 [2]: 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".[6] 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.
    Diophantine and surra thanked this post.



  2. #2

    I don’t remember the multiple endings. I read the book many years ago. But, I can remember he meets his family at least, so I will choose “human story is true.” Maybe I will read it again.
    The Healer of Souls thanked this post.

  3. #3

    I think ultimately the human version of the story is what happened, but that Pi accepts the animal version as his truth. I think he has detached himself from the human version of what happened.

    Potentially he hallucinated Richard Parker during his 22 days at sea. Pi seems to need some greater purpose to struggle. Richard Parker as an entity outside of himself that must be maintained, and it is his desire to maintain Richard Parker that in turn keeps him alive.

    Perhaps Richard Parker is a metaphor for himself, as the journalist suggested, a crueler more wild and terrible side of himself that needed to be temporarily nurtured for his survival. A side which left him when the need left him. In this way, during the storm when he asks why God is making Richard Parker suffer, he's really asking - why is God making him suffer. His efforts at taming Richard Parker, his own efforts at keeping reign over himself.

    Richard Parker is potentially even God. Initially rejected from jumping aboard the boat during the tragedy of the sinking ship, but who boards none-the-less. A being who is mysterious, untouchable, unfathomable, and frightening but who, again, ultimately is is viewed by Pi as necessary for his survival. The only time Pi is able to touch Richard Parker is when he believes he is about to die and has truly surrendered himself to what he believes is God's will. In this interpretation, God is there right under Pi's nose helping him survive, closest to him during his suffering, even suffering with him, and then farther away when the struggle is over.

    Maybe Richard Parker was an amalgamation of all these things.

  4. #4

    Very nice that you are interested in the inner meaning of Life of Pi

    You always choose from 2 possible variants but you have to jump out from these versions - neither men nor animals are the true story
    Look deeper

  5. #5

    Quote Originally Posted by Viento View Post
    You always choose from 2 possible variants but you have to jump out from these versions - neither men nor animals are the true story
    Look deeper
    How about the human version is the true story and the animal version is just a way to cope with what happened for Pi.

    In my view they are metaphors for life and god. Life(human version) is cruel and hard, the idea of god(animal version) gives you some comfort and lets you cope with all the bullshit thrown at you in life. The tiger is created by his mind as a defense-mechanism, against loneliness or giving up hope or whatever. This is what 'god' really is in the end if you ask me, a defense mechanism of the brain, and Life of Pi expresses this masterfully, subtly but masterfully.




    Spoiler*****
    I nearly cried the moment the tiger just left without looking back. How it made me realize how important it is to let go of the past and move on.. Incredible.
    LovesThinking thanked this post.

  6. #6

    Pi claims 'this is a story which will make you believe in God'.

    And goes on a fantastical tale which wouldn't look out of place in a religious text, whereby numerous incredible events happen - aha, for something so marvelous to occur, some God must be looking over Pi, right?

    As it transpires however, there is an alternate turn of events - Pi was stranded in a boat with several people, after having almost lost his entire family, and is made to witness brutality at the hands of a fellow survivor, ultimately resulting in him committing murder.

    Pi asks you which to you believe: The pleasant but extraordinary tale, or the realistic brutal one. Similarly, the same question could be asked in regards to God - wouldn't you rather believe in something pleasant, however unlikely it appears to be? By demonstrating this mode of thinking, and how our brains are conditioned to prefer pleasant beliefs over unpleasant ones, that is what Pi meant by 'this story will make you believe in God'.

    The point isn't which story is actually true, it's about what you, the reader, take from it.

    EDIT: Also, how has this thread gotten 48,000 views? o.O
    Last edited by Falling Leaves; 07-06-2014 at 05:05 PM.
    StellarSkies and LovesThinking thanked this post.

  7. #7

    Never felt so used as when I finished this book. Nonsense masquerading as meaning. Freud 101. Much to do about very little.

  8. #8

    Quote Originally Posted by TheOffspring View Post
    How about the human version is the true story and the animal version is just a way to cope with what happened for Pi.

    In my view they are metaphors for life and god. Life(human version) is cruel and hard, the idea of god(animal version) gives you some comfort and lets you cope with all the bullshit thrown at you in life. The tiger is created by his mind as a defense-mechanism, against loneliness or giving up hope or whatever. This is what 'god' really is in the end if you ask me, a defense mechanism of the brain, and Life of Pi expresses this masterfully, subtly but masterfully.




    Spoiler*****
    I nearly cried the moment the tiger just left without looking back. How it made me realize how important it is to let go of the past and move on.. Incredible.
    Basically this

    I was so disappointed, I thought it'd lead me to a large religious epiphany but it wasn't at all. The idea that "belief in God is just a comfort blanket" is hardly something new :S
    TheOffspring thanked this post.


 

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