“The Life of Pi,” Review and Criticisms (Spoiler Alert)

Wes  —  April 22, 2013
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A few weeks ago, I finally watched the Academy Award winning film, “Life of Pi.” No doubt the film was well-made, exciting, and beautifully done. However, something bothered me about the film; I wasn’t quite sure what point the filmmakers were trying to make about God. To be honest, I had to watch it twice to really get it. Upon watching it a second (and less distracted) time, I heard the line, “And so it goes with God,” and I said, “Oh, that’s what they were saying!”

Life Of Pi

“Life of Pi” is so much more than an adventure movie about a shipwrecked boy, stuck on a lifeboat with a tiger; if it had just been that, I would have thoroughly enjoyed it. However, “Life of Pi” is meant to make statements about faith, religion, and God. They are statements many in our culture will applaud because Pi personifies their theology and worldview.

Synopsis (Spoiler Alert!):

The movie is about a man, named Pi, who is relating his life’s story to a novelist. The novelist was intrigued by the story because he was promised it would make him believe in God. Pi tells the novelist how, beginning in childhood, his faith developed. He tells of how he was first “introduced to God” through Hinduism, then through Catholicism, and finally through Islam.

But, the main story centers around Pi’s voyage across the Pacific Ocean. During the voyage, the ship on which Pi (a teenager at the time) and his family were traveling, sank in the ocean. Pi tells the novelist that he and a few animals were the only ones who managed to escape on a lifeboat. Soon after the shipwreck, most of the animals killed one another, leaving Pi alone at sea with an adult Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker.

Pi and Richard Parker survive their ordeal, washing up on the shores of Mexico. Pi relates his story to the officials in Mexico. They, of course, find the story hard to believe. So, Pi tells them another story to explain what happened at sea. This story is void of any animals. Instead, the lifeboat is full of people. The people in the boat eventually kill one another, leaving Pi alone at sea.

Near the end of the film, Pi says to the novelist, “I’ve told you two stories about what happened out on the ocean. Neither explains what caused the sinking of the ship, and no one can prove which story is true and which is not. In both stories, the ship sinks, my family dies, and I suffer…So which story do you prefer?”

The novelist admits that he prefers the story with the tiger. “That’s the better story,” he says. Pi smiles slyly and says, “And so it goes with God.”

In case you’re like me, and you find the meaning somewhat hidden, let me explain some of the theological points I believe the filmmakers are trying to make:

1. Religions are all just different ways to get to know God.

In the movie, Pi is a Catholic-Hindu-Muslim (who also teaches classes on Judaism). In our culture, Pi would be the poster child for the way religion “should be.” The world believes Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, etc. should simply be seen as different paths, leading to the same place – God. They believe we should accept every path as an equally valid means of reaching God.

Pi’s father, a harsh atheist, admonishes Pi to stop trying to follow every religion at once. He encourages him to use reason and logic to choose a single path. Pi’s father says, “Believing in everything at once is the same as believing in nothing.” He was exactly right; but unfortunately, the filmmakers used the father’s character to lead the audience to the impression that reason and logic are the tools of the atheist. The filmmakers seem to suggest that having faith is a matter of abandoning reason and logic.

The idea that every religion leads to God is a philosophy conjured up by those who know nothing of the religions about which they speak. They miss the point that every religion – not just Christianity – is mutually exclusive. If one is true, the others simply cannot be true. Even Hinduism (in which worshipers believe in millions of gods), if it is true, then monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) cannot be true. Likewise, if Judaism, Islam, or Hinduism is true, then Jesus is not the Christ and Christians have no hope. But, if Jesus is the Christ, then He is the ONLY path to the Father (John 14:6) and every other religion is false.

2. Believing in God is just believing in a “better story.”

The main point of the story is that suffering, pain, and loss are realities with which humans must learn to cope. Pi told two stories; both involving suffering, pain, and loss. The first story was magical, fanciful, and hard-to-believe. The second story was much more logical, reasonable, and easy to believe. As Pi said, “[either way] the ship sinks, my family dies, and I suffer…So which story do you prefer?”

Faith, in this movie, is about simply preferring to see God. The world considers believers to be child-like; still daring to believe in the unbelievable, in order to cope with the pain of life. They see believing in God as something people do in spite of reason, logic, and science. This movie is their way of saying, “God is a fun fantasy in which to believe. It’s probably all just a fairy tale, but if it helps you deal with your suffering, go ahead and believe in Him.”

However, that is not the biblical definition of “faith.” Faith is not just simply preferring to believe in God because He is the “better story.” Faith is founded, not in wishful thinking, but in reality and in truth (Romans 1:20; 10:17). The Hebrew writer says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is having confidence in an unseen God. I would encourage you to read a post I wrote entitled, “God – The Missing Piece of the Puzzle.”

3. Truth is irrelevant.

Probably the most concerning thing about this movie is the idea that truth is irrelevant. Pi said, “I’ve told you two stories about what happened out on the ocean…no one can prove which story is true and which is not…So, which story do you prefer?” He didn’t ask, “Which story do you believe is true?” He might as well have said, “It doesn’t really matter which one is true.”

Instead, Pi simply asked, “Which story do you prefer?” In today’s culture, it doesn’t matter if what you believe is true; it only matters that you truly prefer what you believe.

To many, there is no such thing as “truth.” There is only what is true for you and what is true for me. Life is simply about choosing the “truth” you prefer. What a dangerous and ignorant way of thinking! Even in the movie, both stories could not be true. At least one of the stories was a boldface lie. To “prefer” a lie over the truth, is ignorant, foolish, and dangerous. Especially, when your soul is at stake.

Jesus said He is the truth (John 14:6), He said truth sets men free (John 8:32), and He said God’s word is truth (John 17:17). Truth is not based in wishful thinking, but upon facts. I believe in God, not because it makes it easier to deal with suffering, but because the facts have convinced me of His existence and the reliability of His word.

Although it was certainly an entertaining film, it ought to be a film which offends Christians deeply. It is condescending to its core to suggest that faith is simply a blind belief in a fairy tale.

But maybe I just over-think things. What did you think of the movie?

I love you and God loves you,

Wes McAdams