Life of Pi
As such images attest, Pi's adventure makes for a powerful theodicy in his search for meaning in the midst of suffering. Pi discovers that God was present in his journey, providing for him every step of the way—with the help of the tiger and later a magical island. Pi learns that even his pain had meaning and purpose. Unfortunately, Life of Pi ultimately nulls this truth, especially in the film's conclusion.
In the third act, Pi offers an alternative perspective to his skeptical listener, who admits that it's a lot to take in. Pi tells a second, similar story that communicates the same ending—yet this version is void of God, the animals, and the other fantastical details. He then asks the writer which story he prefers. Lee tries to evoke an epiphany moment but merely repeats the pluralistic theology that makes his film problematic. This theology, rooted in philosopher Jacques Derrida's theory that "there is nothing outside the text," dismisses the concept of ultimate reality, concluding that all we have are subjective interpretations. While this thinking might be redeemed if understood that not every interpretation is created equally, Life of Pi places all religions on even terms, as if these faiths don't contradict one another and make exclusive claims. Such political correctness essentially diminishes the spiritual gravitas of the film, inadvertently insulting the very religions it celebrates and squandering faith into a meaningless, faith-for-the-sake-of-faith matter.
In a recent conversation with Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert, Lee described his own spirituality like this: "I believe the thing we call faith or God is our emotional attachment to the unknown. I'm Chinese; I believe in the Taoist Buddha. We don't talk about a deity, which is very much like this book; we're not talking about religion but God in the abstract sense, something to overpower you."
In Life of Pi, God and religion are also abstract, making the film the quintessence of a postmodern artifact, one that proves about as conflicted as its message. Lee's grandiose images, in all their splendor and glory, certainly reflect the Creator, but the meaning behind them represents something altogether different—and unfortunately, in the end, it's all smoke and mirrors. There are grains of truth, but woven amidst a lie.
Talk About It
- Life of Pi indicates that all religions lead to God. What is problematic about this pluralistic approach to faith? Does the view work logically? Spiritually?
- Why must Christians believe that Jesus is the only path to God? Why is this belief essential to the Christian faith?
- How should Christians treat those of other religions? Have Christians always done a good job at this?
- Pi learns that his suffering wasn't in vain. How should we view our personal suffering? How does it relate to verses like Romans 8:28-30?