|Suraj Sharma in Life of Pi|
Ang Lee and David Magee did an exceptional job of keeping the book's central messages and themes, without "watering them down" (no pun intended).
*Spoiler Warning: Spoilers will follow in the remainder of this post*
The film opens up and closes with the premise that the story will be a story that will help you believe in God.
This presentation and premise is one that I think many will capture, or watch without catching at all.
Pi Patel has a pluralistic religious paradigm early on in the film, one where he has adopted beliefs from Hindu, Christianity, and Islam. I relate to his father Santosh Patel (Adil Hussain) who one night at dinner tells his son he must decide, and that in believing everything he believes nothing at all.
Attending a secular university with a religious heritage, I saw the University, like many places I'm sure, try to capture the best of all world's in all-inclusive religious discourse that didn't just accept different religious beliefs but tried to meld them, in a way that seemed ignorant in the midst of great contradiction. So, in the same way, I could relate to his father, who probably seems to many in this scene as a father failing to embrace his child's religious expressions. As a result his mother Gita (played by Tabu), seems more loving and compassionate.
Where I related to Santosh in this scene I also struggle with his conclusion. He seems to present two conclusions I personally disagree with (1) You choose for the sake of choosing (2) That reason is a better world view than his current religious selections.
I disagree with Santosh here because his first suggesting is devoid of choosing truth, and instead that the choice alone is valuable. I disagree with the perspective that a bad choice is worse than no choice. On his second point, I think his presentation, similar to those other might present (particularly in academia, as well as in many other circles) is that science and reason are the only truth, as opposed to be compatible and a part of God's design.
Yet, I don't critic Lee's film or Martel's story for this scene, because it's believable, real, and not unlike conversations I could imagine around some people's dinner tables. I appreciate the sensitive presentation.
Yet, in the final conclusion of the film, I find the final message and theme to be less sensitive. In the end the story of Pi Patel leaves viewers with two stories, the one with the Bengal tiger, and a less powerful story of a cook, a sailor, and his mother on the boat, and Pi Patel's own dark survivalist side coming out in the midst of some very traumatic events.
Pi (as an adult, Irrfan Khan) asks the writer (Rafe Spall) "So which story do you prefer?" and the writer responds back "The one with the tiger. That's the better story." Pi responds "Thank you. And so it goes with God."
This scene, message, and conclusion is more disturbing and offensive to me. It presents God, and religion for that matter, as something that is imaginary. Instead of choosing the reality (in this film, a story where his mother and two others die cruel deaths on a boat), a more mystical and comforting option is present. Yann Martel's story presents a message that we can make a rational choice to believe in a irrational God. A presentation that religion can be a conscious decision to undo reality, selecting the better story.
In the scenario presented here in the film and the choice with the two stories, I'll chose the one with the four shipwrecked victims over Pi and the four animals every time. I am interested in truth.
And yet, the film suggests value in choosing a lie for a better story.
This dichotomy is not one that I think is one that non-believing atheist struggle with, as much as those who believe in God (whether Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, etc) but have been exposed to a world hostile to this type of presentation. I see many people reconcile there beliefs and traditions much life Pi does in this film, where they conclude that there is values in their religious beliefs and heritage but they walk away from the table unable to reconcile their view of the world and their view of God.
The message I struggle with here, is that Yann Martel (and Ang Lee's telling) suggest that this is okay. The message is that you are permitted to conscious disillusionment. And I disagree.
I think people should strive to reconcile their world view and seek truth. Even now, in the season of Christmas, this film would suggest it is okay for you not to truly believe in all of the details of Jesus, but you are permitted to celebrate his birth and gleam excitement, values, and emotional experiences out of the story. But it is just that, a "better story" than an alternative. But I would hope that instead of celebrating a Jesus that they don't truly believe is true, that people would not as Santosh Patel suggests "just make a choice, an choose reason" (my paraphrase), that they would instead seek out truth, where God is a viable option on the table.
Which is the true story in Life of Pi? I think it's clear that it is one where a Buddhist sailor is used for food after he breaks his leg, the mother is stabbed by a cook and falls overboard, and a young boy kills the cook.
And as for God, Martel would suggest that choosing God is like choosing the story of the Tiger. But I believe God is more that a story. He is reality. Voiding in my mind, Martel's masterfully crafted message.