When Life of Pi was first shown in the theater, friends rushed to me with excitement and told me that this film has a very spiritual flavor. I could tell from their enthusiasm that they believed that I’m going to love this film. For sure, it is beautifully done. I basically agree with all the positive reviews out there that give high regards to the cinematography, the fine work of the director, the theme, and, yes, the spirituality. Ang Lee, the director, did a wonderful job in the storytelling. The symbolism in the original novel is textbook American literature in style. But the fact remains that I don’t like this movie. I don’t like this movie not because of its artistic elements. For its artistry, I’d give it an A plus! But I don’t like this movie for what it says. It is the message that rubs me wrong.
The spirituality of Life of Pi is pantheistic, a typical view of Hinduism. That’s not the problem. The problem is how it positions faith. The main character of the movie, Pi, had a horrific experience in a shipwreck. Other than he and his mother, the rest of his family died. They got on a lifeboat with a few of the crew members. After drifting for days, the ship cook resorted to cannibalism. Pi witnessed the murder of his mother, and he eventually killed the cook and dined on him. As he recalled this incident, he replaced all the characters with animals. He even “objectivized” himself as a Bengal tiger called Richard Parker, and the whole story of his survival became a fairy tale. It is in the choice of the “realities” he positioned his faith. When he was asked why the story, he asked the inquirer back which story he preferred – the one with the animals or without the animals. The inquirer replied “The one with the animals.” Pi said, “So it goes with God.”
To Pi, God is merely a choice of reality. While anyone could sympathize with him to use an alternate reality to recall his horrific atrocities, the story has reduced God to an imagination. A God that is being used to explain life this way is not only passive but also optional. It reminds me of what atheists used to mock Christians that God is only for the weak. In this case, I would have to agree. God can be, and will be, replaced when a better story comes along – when he is no longer ‘necessary’. This is why I think this is a great movie that I’ve come to dislike.