A reader asked what we thought of the movie Life of Pi, and since I’ve never brought up my opinions on the blog before, I figured I should share them. I read the book years before seeing the movie, enjoyed it with some reservations. The movie was beautifully done. This review will contain spoilers, so be forewarned.
Life of Pi was a bit irritating to me because it was, in my view, way too enthusiastic about “faith” as the source of wonder in our lives. On the other hand, the story very obviously has an unreliable narrator, so it’s hard to know how much Pi Patel is an author avatar, and how much is about creating a compelling character with quirky beliefs.
For instance: at the end of his narrative, he goes to this island that eats people. This is fairly unbelievable, and the authorities can’t verify that such a place exists, or could exist. Did he really go to an island at all? No way to know.
Then at the end, the Japanese businessmen clearly do not believe his story, and he starts over with another, more human oriented, and arguably more plausible story. Which story is true? Again there’s no way to know. The “author” visiting him asks which is true, and Pi says, “It doesn’t matter; all that matters is which story is more beautiful. And so it is with God.”
Under a religious interpretation, you can take this at face value: “Yeah, it’s beautiful, so it’s true!” But if we try to be as charitable as possible, as atheists, we might say: “Wait a minute, that’s nonsense. One of those stories was objectively false. This casts doubt on the entire tale, and comparing God to that isn’t doing religion any favors.”
In addition to the religious influences on Pi, there is a sympathetic atheist in the story. In the book it’s a beloved teacher, in the movie the duty falls on his father. The atheist presents our position pretty well and fairly, even though Pi muddies that position by blending it with Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism.
Personally, I lean toward thinking that the author takes some of this mysticism seriously, but a the book and movie are so open ended about their message that they can be a bit of a Rorshach test for what you want to think. In the end, fictional stories ARE often judged more by how beautiful they are than how true they are, and the only real mistake is to confuse fiction with real life.