Friday, February 7, 2014

Lie of Pi

“So which story do you prefer?”
“The one with the tiger. That's the better story.”
“Thank you. And so it goes with God.”

“Life of Pi” is a tough nut for a lot of people. It is a story concerned with spirituality and faith. It has a lot of positive talk about God and religion. It has a little bit of that age-old, out of step with these enlightened times, wise-older-foreign-man wit. And yet, it feels off somehow.

The fact is, Pi is a story about the postmodern approach to spirituality. It presents an appealing buffet of religious choices. The idea that we get to choose things we like and that which makes us feel good and lay aside that which makes us feel guilty.

In the film we see Pi grow up choosing the best bits of all the religions he encounters on a quest to “be pure.” For example, he loves the idea of Jesus’ love but hates the concept of a perfect God who would allow the sacrifice of a perfect person on behalf of a sinful world. In the end he becomes a Hindu Catholic Muslim. One day he makes an attempt to “get to know” his father’s new tiger. (His parents own a zoo.) His father teaches him that the tiger is NOT his friend and in fact is a soulless killer who would eat him without a thought. The lesson is a traumatizing one; one that sticks with Pi.

Later on, when Pi is stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean, Pi experiences something beyond the trauma one would expect from such a situation. He relates two different stories about that experience. One has Pi killing a man. The other claims that a tiger did the killing. It is hard enough to imagine someone surviving as long as Pi did on the ocean, but even more difficult to think he did so sharing the small boat with a full grown Bengal Tiger. The truth is likely that Pi invented the Tiger to absolve his own guilt.

Pi’s journey is not really a quest to find God or answers. He is only out to find ways to make himself feel good about his choices and failings. His idea of God is whatever story you tell yourself to justify your journey. It is an elaborate form of self-worship.

The better story according to Pi is not the one that reflects reality, but rather the one that reflects the most beautiful lie.

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