November 25, 2012

Tigers, God, & Faith: My Take On The "Life of Pi" Ending

For some, the ending of the book/film "Life of Pi" can be infuriating. I remember being confused by it when I read the book and also slightly befuddled when I saw the astounding screen adaptation this past weekend. For those of you who need a quick refresher, here is the basic gist of it:

After Pi is safely on the shore, he gives the testimony of his survival to the Japanese company that owned the sunken ship. In the narrative we've heard for most of the book, he's on the boat with Richard Parker the tiger, an orangutan, a zebra, and a hyena. The hyena ends up killing both the orangutan and the zebra, and then Richard Parker kills the hyena, leaving just Pi and the beast on the boat to survive. In the second story, there were no animals, each one is really a person. The hyena is really the crude French cook who kills both the zebra (a kind sailor) and the orangutan (Pi's mother ) and then eventually is killed by the Tiger (Pi). The reader/viewer much like the Japanese fishing company has to decide which one they believe.

There is no doubt this is initially a frustrating ending, I mean, it undermines most of the narrative! But stick with me with here, I think I have a reasonably good take on what it all means!

It all comes down to Richard Parker and whether you believe in God or not. 

If you don't believe in God (nothing wrong with that) than the rugged non-animal version of the story is for you. This is a tale of the gritty, can-do human spirit, which has the power to vanquish any foe, and conquer any task. This is the highly individualistic way to look at the narrative. No one is going to help us. Not our parents, not strangers, not the world, not even God (if he was real). The only person you can rely on is yourself. And if you believe in yourself and your will to survive, you have a tiger within you who can help you overcome any obstacle.

Throughout the story Richard Parker plays many parts for Pi, all of them related to how different religions view God. 

Islam believes that God is all powerful and unknowable. This is similar to the violent power of the Tiger but also how ultimately after all the duo goes through, Richard Parker leaves him on the beach. They have may coexisted with each other, but Pi never really knew or understood him.

Christianity believes in a loving God who was made real and walked the earth to help us. This is similar to Richard Parker because as the story progresses the two begin to share a real bond and Pi leans on him to survive both physically and emotionally. Sometimes he may be a harsh first testament type of God, but ultimately the connection between the two is one of love. This is evident is the heartbreaking scene where Pi consoles the dying Richard Parker.

Hinduism believes in multiple Gods, and that true knowledge of God is when a person gives them-self completely to the Universe. Pi through Richard Parker and his ordeal on the boat, ultimately learns to give himself to Vishnu, the God mentioned in the film as the entire Universe. Think about the scene where Pi is on the raft screaming that gives himself to God as evidence of this. Richard Parker also represents the many different evil and kind Gods found in Hinduism.

Finally, I want to touch on one last thing, which is how Richard Parker seemingly abandons Pi on the beach, just walking off into the jungle without looking back at him. The point of this is the same for the all the religions in the book and also faith in general: God is there for you, even if you can't see him/her/it. Richard Parker doesn't abandon Pi, he gets rescued after all. He just walked off into the jungle, maybe to go help someone else who needs him. If you believe that Richard Parker was Pi himself, then Richard Parker never looking back signifies that Pi's individualistic self is leaving him because he's not needed. He will resurface again, when the time comes.

Either way, both stories are pretty inspiring and the beauty of the book/film is that both of them work for different people. If you're a rugged individualist atheist, the film can be seen as a powerful testament to the human spirit. If you're a spiritual person, the film is jam packed for you with a bounty of belief systems of and spiritual knowledge. I'm sure I have missed some things here so if you have a theory, please leave it in the comments.

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