I remember seeing the movie a few years ago. My mom had half watched a trailer while doing 10 other things and figured it was a fun movie about a circus or something because there was a tiger. She suggested that we take all of the young cousins to the movie and so we did. Life of Pi is not a kids movie about a circus.
It’s gritty and slow and sad and beautiful, and definitely not a kids movie.
Luckily I wasn’t a child at the time and really enjoyed the movie. The cinematography is stunning. I love that the ocean becomes it’s own character throughout the movie. A fickle friend to the protagonist, but also his lifeline. I could go on, but right now you’re wondering why I’m talking about the movie in a book review. Well, because my experience during the movie really shaped the experience I had reading the book.
You see, the conclusion of the movie makes you think that the whole movie, the entire story, was a metaphor for the delusions that religious people allow themselves to believe rather than accepting the cold, depressing facts of mortality. And so, even though I thought the movie was beautiful, I didn’t agree with the thesis, and didn’t feel like reading the book.
Until I found out that Life of Pi was the favorite book of one of my friends. A friend whose taste in books I really trust. So I decided to give it another try.
Just like the movie, the book is slow. But you are rewarded for your progress with gorgeous prose. The kind of prose that feels like poetry because it’s so rhythmic and full. So if you’re a writer, the book is well worth your time merely because Yann Martel is a brilliant writer and you will want to read what he can do with the English language.
The book feels otherworldly, and often is. Sometimes it’s the rich descriptions of India, sometimes it’s literally a magical island that eats people. Martel invites all of his readers to suspend disbelief for this story. And he does it with the guileless voice of Pi, his protagonist.
What you come to love about Pi, both the youth and the adult, is his appreciation for life and faith. As a child, he joins Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism at the same time. He loves and believes all of them, and doesn’t find them mutually exclusive. They all help him connect with a higher power in a different way.
But even for a religious person like me, Pi’s journey begs the question: How could someone so faithful be forced to experience such a trial? What is powerful about the story is that even though Pi does ask the question as well, he doesn’t dwell on it. He continually returns to his faith to endure the months he spends in solitude on the brink of death. His story should be simple. He should have died. He should have starved. He should have been eaten by any of the wild animals he was trapped with. He should have lost his sanity. He should have committed suicide. But his story isn’t simple, because he doesn’t do any of those things. (Sanity is up for debate, I suppose)
The book’s conclusion contrasts the movie because it is less prescriptive. While the atheistic interpretation of The Life of Pi is there, it also has another interpretation. That although faith seems as remarkable as a boy surviving on a lifeboat for over a year with a Bengal Tiger, that doesn’t mean that Pi didn’t have that experience. And as remarkable as conceptions of faith are, that doesn’t mean that those who have had spiritual experiences of all faiths didn’t actually have them. In so many ways, the book explains spirituality to a modern world better than almost anything else I’ve ever read. And it does it through a beautiful, poignant story of a young boy named Pi.