Sunday, December 16, 2012
Last night I headed out to finish up some Christmas shopping with my 13 year old son, and we decided to see "The Life of Pi". I have a LONG history with this book. I read it probably close to 10 years ago, and debated it with friends at the time. A couple of years later my book club read it- and discussed and debated it then, too. A recent reading of "Beatrice and Virgil" brought me back to Pi and Martel's means of storytelling.
Now, the film. I wasn't sure it could be done, but it has been.
The movie is a glittering visual of the book come to life. In some ways, the visuals nicely unfold where as with the book your mind is trying to conjure up the image (I even bought an illustrated copy to assist me on this journey after reading the novel the first time). Fans of the book won't be diasppointed.
But I thought the movie would make a conclusion for me. I thought it would help me decide what to think. It doesn't. It leaves you left open and raw and wondering what it all really means. So here is what it means to me, after 10 years of reading, debating discussing. It may be something entirely different for you, and that is the way Martel intends it to be. As a Christian Mormon faith filled person I am moved by the message of this story.
SPOILERS on all accounts from here on out.
First off, it is important to note that Richard Parker, the tiger, is indeed Pi. There are many clues to this fact. He admits that he must say this to the reporters when they dig deeper and demand the truth from Him. As he crawls on the boat watch his hands, his mannerisms....he is a tiger. In the beginning of the story you are given another clue- the priest in the chapel approaches the young Pi and says "you must be Thirsty...." (this was the REAL GIVEN name of the tiger).
At first reading, I felt this view of himself was only to allow Pi to deal with the sin of eating meat. We know what an offense this is to him. After viewing the tiger's consumption of the goat ( an unexplained event presented by the director through the bars of the cage in the movie) he may see this carnivore lifestyle as completely animalistic and a means to survival. He ate fish meat as well as the meat of the cook's (hyena's) body, while choosing to throw his mother (or the zebra) over board.
Pi also must 'train' the tiger, as we must harness the animalistic nature (human nature) inside ourselves, in order to survive the elements of the world. On further thought I feel the tiger represents any offense that distances us from God. Often we do these things under 'justified' circumstances, as a means of survival. At some point, however we must stop. We must surrender to God and confess that we give our life if He wants it.... we give all we have. Pi does this during the storm.....
After that confession, or coming face to face with God (Pi says he has seen God's face- while Richard Parker, the sinner inside himself, is afraid to see it and hides), God provides the miracle for which we can live righteously again. In the story, this is the island. The waters are fresh, the vines are edible, and Pi finds solace and hope again. He may live on the island forever to hide the from the elements of his journey- or so he thinks. He is shown a clue (the tooth in the fruits of the trees) as to the detrement of hiding on the island.
We too, can not hide only on the miracles of God. We must experience the miracles, allow them to change us and nourish us, and then get 'back in our boats' and face our journey. Remembering the miracles provides us with the hope and sustanence we require as humans to press on.
Eventually, we all must let go of the natural tendancies, or human/animal nature, inside of oursleves. Pi was exhausted and surrendered completely as Richard Parker left his side. I find it interesting that the tiger did not try to reconcile or say Goobye- it just left. Pi later reveals this was hard for him, he had grown close to Richard Parker, and wanted a way to say goodbye. Imagine ourselves, seeking a cerimonious fanfare as we leave sin behind.....it just doesn't work that way. Often times we just wake up and simply stop sinning. The animal inside us just walks away, regardless of how attached to it we may feel we are. I feel Pi had been worn down and became humbled in a way that the sin had no more need of him. The sin moved on, finding others to engulf. Part of us may want to thank that nature, for it has taught us and saved us in many ways, but our lives take a turn when we let it go. We then become a missionary, one who shares their story...a 'good story' of how we were saved.
The last part of the story always troubled me most.... the line "And so it is with God" spoken by Pi after his audience chooses the 'animal' story over the horrific human story of survivial. I have read one viewer say this is our choice as humans, to simplify religion down to simple symbols that we can relate with and attach to, as we ignore the bloody and painful realities in the true history of religion. I find a lot of power in that opinion of the story as a whole, and I agree this is one of the layers of the story, but I am moved to believe something far more personal in the end.
All of us travel a journey of survival. We fight the tigers within ourselves that draw us to sin and to choose lifestyles below our belief system. We are given miracles to save us and we are eventually taken to a place of humility where we see the face of God, and we become sanctified. In the end, we too will have an audience for our journey's story.... one who will judge our story and deem it good or not. No doubt our story to our final audience will be one of justified actions, simple symbols and sugar coated explanations that we hope paint ourselves incredible in God's eyes. However, He of course, knows the truth. he knows the blood, the cursings, the leaving of beliefs to survive. But to Him, it doesn't matter. We win approval as He chooses the symbols of ourselves, the better story, and allows us to forever live in the glory it brings us.
This is a story of power and one of true art, which is all too rare in the media of today. I hope my ideas (they are just ideas- I am NO EXPERT) open your mind to the possibilities of this story.
Happy reading. Happy movie viewing.