Life of Pi (2012)

6vFCjCdBasically, Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” is a brilliantly directed and incredibly beautiful film, with amazing special effects and just breathtaking visuals. It is also a tedious sermon wrapped up in an agnostic package that will leave viewers clinging to whatever they want to believe. When it comes to confronting the themes of faith and religion, “Life of Pi” seems bold in explaining that they’re all just basically good for the soul and rejuvenating, but in the end the film seems to stick to the notion that there is only one real God and that’s the Catholic/Christian one.

The protagonist Pi Patel makes it clear he’s a Catholic and believes in only his God, and spends most of the film clinging to his Catholic deity as a form of survival. In the end of the film when we find out what the true purpose of the story was, “Life of Pi” almost seems to be an endorsement for ignorance and fantasy. Truly, there’s no way Pi Patel’s story of his boat trip with a tiger, and other zoo animals could have possibly happened. Or maybe his God allowed it to happen. Or maybe Pi is lying. So if Pi is lying and did indeed commit the acts he partially confesses to, does that make him a sinner?

Are we supposed to believe Pi is some sort of wise mystic guru, because he lies and speaks circles around people and feeds them a story that may or may not have happened? What does that say about religion? “Life of Pi” feels like an agnostic’s epic, but in reality it really does appeal to the religious portion of the audiences, all of whom will enjoy the fantastic epic journey Pi is handed by fate and nature. When Pi realizes the people around him will not believe what he believes, he reduces his story to a grim, violent, and dumbed down account of survival.

In other words, he basically just feeds an atheistic story to the authorities too narrow minded to open themselves to the possibility that Pi was given a spiritual quest of his life, and survived with a better understanding of the world. Because atheists and agnostics are much too stupid to comprehend any of what he endures. And hey, we’re better off if we believe the fantastic, because ignorance is bliss. It’s best not to question anything and just believe what we’re told. “Life of Pi” is really just a condescending religious sermon that dismisses atheism, and endorses the notion of blind faith, and denial as a positive character trait.

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  • Ken Kaplan

    I think there is truth in your assessment of the religious “denouement”, of this film, that faith or belief depends on the story of the journey you wish to tell or adhere to. In this respect, any authentic possibility of connection to transcendence or divinity is over simplified.

    Yet to me the remarkable excursion into this story via the characters, details, and incredible visual spectacular override the weakness of the philosophical narrative and I think you dismiss it too easily in your review. However we all have our preferences.

    For me the tremendous force of nature and of life embodied in the film makes the spirit of life come alive in spite of the mind’s attempts to encapsulate it. Thus there is a tremendous transcendent quality to the experience in spite of its reductionism toward that very transcendence.

    In an ironic way, “God” insists on being present, even if, as you say, there is an unconscious attempt at denial. Perhaps there is meaning in this alone.

  • Abimael

    I thoroughly support your assessment of “Life of Pi”. It is condescending religious propaganda. The main character dismisses atheism and even treats agnostics as a group of lost cowards who have no idea where they stand. However, I don’t think that Pi was advocating Catholicism as the one true religion. On the contrary, what baffles me is that he fancies himself a Hindu, a Christian and a Muslim. He completely dismisses the blatant incompatibility between these religious doctrines. At the same time, as you suggest, he sort of promotes that it is fine to accept and have faith in whatever version of “reality” you endorse, as long as it is “the better story”. He favors delusion over reason, logic, evidence or actual events. On the other hand, Ang Lee’s movie turned out to be a visually stunning and a great technical achievement.

  • cuddlytiger

    In a way, you could say I share the root of your frustrations but for a different reason.

    I believe in God, but my faith is not of the blind nature and I strongly disagree with the idea that you need to switch off all logic or reason to believe in God – which this film seems to be saying. “Which story do you prefer?” Pi asks the author. It is either suggesting that there is no absolute truth, or that finding the truth is irrelevant – what is more important is believing whichever religion makes the world seem more beautiful to you.

    If anything, I would have thought this film would make one more likely to become an atheist than religious. I find it hard to imagine this film converting anyone to any religion, unless a good enough reason for you is “because it makes the world seem more beautiful”.

    So while this film may think it’s pro-religion, I imagine that most people of faith would beg to differ, as they believe that their religion is the truth, not a pretty story written to help them sleep better at night.

    What a shame that this combination of breathtaking visual effects, acting talent, and film-making talent in general was, in this instance, wasted on telling a story with an underlying message as hollow as this. But i guess in essence our opinion of the movie is much the same.

  • Bevin Chu

    Dear Felix,

    Well said.

    The Life of Pi is a skillfully made film, but one which involves an interesting paradox.

    On the one hand, if Ang Lee’s intent was to promote the author’s preference for blind faith over hard reality, then the film was not worth making. The author’s intellectual premise does not justify all the artistic and technical skill that went into its making.

    If, on the other hand, Ang Lee’s intent was to offer an ironic commentary on how people prefer a fascinating lie over an ugly truth, then the film may have been worth the effort. The story was worth filming only in a sense that the author never intended, namely that it inadvertently proved that “men of faith” are guilty of flagrant intellectual evasion, and proud of it.

  • Johnnnyboy

    This is a pretty movie, I give it that, and it is set in an exotic locale. But good picture taking can hold interest only so long. As best I can tell, the only thing the movie has to maintain interest was a story line that consists of focusing on what particular line of hokum an unfocused youth would eventually find most satisfying. After a half hour or so of waiting for something more to hook my interest, I gave up on the project and quit watching. Waiting for the fancy special effects to kick in became too much of a chore for the film to be a source of entertainment.

  • Casiquire

    I have to disagree…the end, to me, seems to explain the emptiness of religion rather than to fully embrace it. The end says “You know the truth, and you prefer a beautiful lie.” The point is, it admits religion is the lie.