Media Morals

Hollywood films and mainstream media analyzed through the lens of Biblical Truth.

Life of Pi: Meeting God In The Storm

SPOILER ALERT: The following post about the movie Life of Pi might reveal plot points and story elements that could detract from the enjoyment of an initial viewing of the film. I encourage you to see the movie before reading this post.

life-of-pi-posterLife of Pi quickly blurs the lines of what I will call physical reality and emotional or spiritual reality by using metaphors and external projections of the internal life of the main character, Pi Patel, to tell his harrowing journey of survival after a tragic shipwreck.

Relative Importance of Reality

Adult Pi Patel: So which story do you prefer?
Writer: The one with the tiger. That’s the better story.
Adult Pi Patel: Thank you. And so it goes with God.
Writer: [smiles] It’s an amazing story.

In today’s culture, we tend to put a lot of weight and importance on facts, figures, and information and diminish the importance of stories. Facts and figures rarely have emotional value and are therefore easily forgotten or inaccurately remembered. However, those facts and specifics take on an emotional component and importance that are more easily recalled when communicated within the context of a story. Story allows easy conveyance of a complex idea without convoluting the meaning. Jesus understood this. Most of Jesus’ engagements with the public in the Bible revolved less around dissertations about theology and tradition and tried to break down complex Biblical Truths into a story that was easily related to by His audience and more accurately disseminated to others. This is because the point was not just a detail of the story, but was woven into the very fabric of the story.

Without spoiling the broader metaphor related at the end of the movie when Pi recounts his story to the Japanese insurance agents, it becomes evident that the tiger was a part of Pi himself. The tiger was not a straight representation of Pi but an externalization of his fierce survival self. This is why Pi remains in human form on the boat alongside the tiger. In the fight for survival, with the other animals in the boat, Pi’s animalistic and violent instincts took over. However, Pi recognized that these tendencies were unbridled and were at war against his humanity and childlike nature. He recognized that the tiger in him would consume his spiritual self if he could not learn to tame it.

Taming The Tiger WithinTaming Inner Tiger

Pi recognized the reality of his tiger and the necessity of its existence for him to survive. He also recognized the potential harm that it could cause him. Seeing the tiger as a part of his own being (the instinctual, violent, survivor part which we can view as the flesh), Pi began to train and bring the tiger under submission to work with and for him instead of having his actions dictated by the tiger. This can be seen as a metaphor for bringing the flesh under control of the spirit.

Pi exercised this control he had gained during an encounter with a violent storm. The tiger hid from the storm under a tarp, but the spiritual side of Pi recognized the necessity to witness the awesomeness of the storm, bolstering his awe and wonder of God. Pi pulls the hiding place away saying to the tiger, “Richard Parker, come out! You have to see this! It’s beautiful!” Pi in the stormFulfilled in his relationship with God, Pi did not fear the storm as his flesh, the tiger, did. He was more interested in seeing the power of God than hiding from the terror of it, even if that exposure meant potential physical harm. It was at this point of witnessing the power of God, being in touch with it, that Pi could ask questions as well as submit himself verbally to the will of God over his life. As Pi yells to the sky, “You took my family. You took everything. I surrender. What more do you want?” And that’s just what God wants: Everything. He wants us to be in complete surrender to Him. And this is not an unreasonable request. God created all things, including us, which means everything already belongs to Him. We keep fighting for ourselves in this life and God is wanting you to surrender yourself to Him and He will sustain you. Pi finally reaches a state of acceptance of God’s will when, on the edge of collapse and expected death, he states, “God, thank you for giving me my life. I am ready now.”

The Floating Island: A Necessary Stop, A False Salvation

life-of-pi-fish

After this confession, Pi finds himself run aground on a floating island made of living Mangrove trees. Being a seeming physical impossibility, the island represents the miraculous provision of God in times of need. Seeing that it was good to eat, Pi begins to consume the vegetation and enjoys fresh water from a pool in the island. The island also is inhabited by thousands of meerkats, sustenance for the tiger. This points to the fact that God makes provision for both our physical needs as well as our spiritual and emotional needs. Through the course of his stay on the island, Pi finds a human tooth that has been absorbed by a flower. Pi states that he recognized the island, although it gave sustenance to him in the day, became toxic at night and was not hospitable. The tooth that Pi found was from a previous survivor who found refuge on the island but stayed there too long and was destroyed by the very thing he saw as his salvation. The island represents false salvation and we do the same thing all the time. God sent the island to Pi to give him temporary respite and to encourage him in his journey to true salvation: his arrival back to society.

As we are in the harrowing storms and trials of life. Sometimes God sends us lifelines such as friends, money, an experience. These are not meant to be final solutions to our problem or final destinations of our journey but are encouragements and necessary weigh stations to enable us to continue. However, in desperation, loneliness, and fear, we cling to these lifelines as the final solution or destination, fearful of what might lie after. Like Pi, we think we can stay at these weigh stations forever, and like the man the tooth belonged to, some of us try. But the fear of continuing and the complacency of holding onto things so tenuous will prevent us from fulfilling our purpose and experiencing the blessings of true salvation. Another form of false salvation is through things or experiences that we create and seek out ourselves. Whether through drugs, sex, alcohol, work, adrenaline, friends, or even family, we try and relieve or escape the trials and tribulations that lay before us, but they will not result in the fulfillment of our purpose on this earth or in our salvation.

Salvation Experienced: The Act Of Letting Go

Adult Pi Patel: I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go, but what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye. It’s important in life to conclude things properly. Only then can you let go. Otherwise you are left with words you should have said but never did, and your heart is heavy with remorse.

life-of-pi-movie-still-21

Everything concludes at some point. But the way we resolve those finalities are very important. In the above monologue, Pi expresses remorse for how unceremoniously his flesh and he depart. Once they reach the shore, the tiger heads to the edge of the jungle and then steps out of sight without even a glance back. Despite the danger that the tiger presented to Pi at the beginning of the movie, Pi did not relish his deliverance from him. This is because Pi recognized that the tiger was not his enemy but one of the very things that enabled his survival. As Pi stated earlier in the story, “[The tiger] keeps me alert. Taking care of him gives me purpose.” Like Pi and the tiger, we should view our time wrestling with the flesh in a similar manner. It is by struggling against the flesh, keeping it in check, that we learn and grow the most spiritually. In other words, the lessons that are the most valuable and timeless to us are usually the most painful to learn.

Friends come and go, we go in and out of jobs, we go through seasons of growth and plenty. At each of these changes, and even in the midst of seasons, reflect on where you are and the importance of what is going on at any given time in your life. In the heat of living, we often forget to slow down and reflect upon the larger story of God and the significance of where he has put us. When we slow down, we not only get to see the larger picture of life, but we see the significance in the mundane and small things. Never miss a chance, especially in the midst of change, to look back at that experiences and people God has given you and solidify in your mind the lessons they taught you and the impact they had on your life. This is the only way to come to peace with the past and learn for the future without regret. In this way even moments of shame and failure can be looked back on with hope and significance as you can view how they grew and shaped you for the future you were meant for.

As Pi concludes his story, “It was a time filled with wonder that I’ll always remember.” Hopefully you will be able to look back at your time on this earth and say the same.

Evangelism: “None of us know God until someone introduces us to Him”

Evangelism and the act of talking about religious ideas and especially the Gospel of Christ continues to be a subject of more and more contempt and hostility in the modern world. This societal hostility has caused a lack of confidence and a feeling of shame on the part of followers of Christ in sharing their faith in Jesus. Although it can be a daunting task theoretically, we put too much pressure on ourselves and fail to recognize that evangelism, at its core, is not a debate or a persuasive essay, but a personal testimony on the part of the person who has had an experience with God. When asked to tell his story for the Writer, Pi states, “For myself, I can only tell you my story. You must decide what to believe.” It is not our responsibility to convince people of the Truth of the Gospel but to simply share with others our experience with the person of Jesus Christ; that is all for which we are held accountable. This understanding is confirmed by the healed cripple man from John 9:

“So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” (John 9:24-27)

We are not responsible for defending the Gospel or Jesus. Both are capable of standing in defense of themselves. All we are to do is to give a defense of the hope that is within us through testimony of our experience with Christ and the Gospel (1 Peter 3:15). Giving a defense also does not mean that we hide our infirmities or doubt. As conversed about between Pi and the Writer:

Adult Pi Patel: Faith is a house with many rooms.
Writer: But no room for doubt?
Adult Pi Patel: Oh plenty, on every floor. Doubt is useful, it keeps faith a living thing. After all, you cannot know the strength of your faith until it is tested.

Doubt and the persevering through it towards what we know to be the true strengthens our faith both within and others’ view of it from without. Faith untested is weak. This reminds me of the process of a baby giraffe first learning to walk. As the baby struggles to get up, the watchful mother knocks it over. This process continues for a while until the mother recognizes that the baby can confidently get back on its feet quickly. Like a baby giraffe learning to walk, God allows us to struggle through doubt and trials, not because He is sadistic but because He wants us to be strong, capable of standing on our own in the face of attack on our faith and beliefs.

life_of_pi_priest

It is also not our job to foster a relationship between someone and Jesus but simply to make the introduction. As Pi says of his own journey to faith, “None of us know God until someone introduces us to Him.” In Pi’s case, that person was a patient priest who was willing to explain the Gospel and the person of Jesus Christ to one who, in Pi’s case, was coming to dishonor the church by drinking the holy water! Another point to make here is that understanding God and our relationship with Christ is a process and we cannot expect someone to become perfect in their theology or understanding of God all at once. After accepting the Gospel of Christ, Pi is heard praying, “Thank you, Vishnu, for introducing me to Christ.” That prayer seems completely contradictory and flawed theologically, but does that simplest recognition of the Truth of what Jesus did on the cross constitute a saving faith? Only God truly knows, but I would argue that it could and that the sprouts of faith need to continue to be watered and nurtured rather than trampled by an unrelenting systematic theology.

The Existence Of God and the Greatest Story Ever Told

Pi: “Above all… it is important not to lose hope.”

Life of Pi does not lay out an explicit Gospel message or contain a straightforward salvation experience, but it does cause the audience, coming from the point of view of the Writer, to think about the merits of faith and the possibility of God in the light of one man’s faith and an amazing life journey. It also does not defame the name of Christ nor belittle those who walk in faith, as witnessed in the very affable portrayal of the priest. Rather, it elevates such faith to a position of necessity for survival and spiritual and emotional prosperity. The importance of faith and hope in God is recognized by Pi in his acknowledgment that God is the Master Storyteller from whom all stories and all of life flow. As Beverly Hartz, the Mission Hospital chaplain said, “A good story is a journey toward God. It reminds us of the Master Storyteller. A good story is a holy thing.” In the end it does not matter whether the story actually happened. What matters in a story is what it teaches us; what it inspires us toward. Does it inspire us to hope and to strive on with purpose and excitement or does it cause us to wallow in despair and nihilism.

review_life-of-pi-e1353441124712

After Pi shares a more factually accurate version of the story, the exchange from the beginning of this post occurs:

Adult Pi Patel: So which story do you prefer?
Writer: The one with the tiger. That’s the better story.
Adult Pi Patel: Thank you. And so it goes with God.
Writer: [smiles] It’s an amazing story.

Like Pi, our lives will always be an amazing story when viewed from the eternal perspective of the Master Storyteller: God.

Written By: Tyrel Good © 2013

Images property of FOX and its related entities.

2 responses to “Life of Pi: Meeting God In The Storm

  1. Jorge February 28, 2013 at 2:21 AM

    The beauty of this movie is how it rewrites itself in the last 10 minutes and changes from a kids tale to a gruesome truth. Very deep, it really impacted me.

    (SPOILER ALERT)
    Pie is the tiger who has to endure cannibalism – The butcher killing and eating the sailor and then killing his mother. Then Pi killing the butcher and probably eating him too. The island that saved him with shape of a woman, his mother who he had to eat to survive after. The meerkats represent maggots. Took 227 days, this would not be possible otherwise as he did not catch so many fish.

  2. leharaamieux December 1, 2019 at 9:23 AM

    Thank you for this.

    Great great review. I hope you keep them coming.

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