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“I was told you have a story that would make me believe in God,” claims a young skeptic when he meets Pi Patel, the fascinating main character of “Life of Pi.”
“As for God, I can only tell my story,” Pi answers. “After that, you will decide what you believe.”
This holiday season, while audiences are flocking to “Twilight” and “Lincoln” and “Rise of the Guardians” and “Skyfall” and the upcoming “Les Miserables” and “The Hobbit” (Wow! What a lineup!), one remarkable gem of a film – “Life of Pi” – could easily fall through the cracks.
Seen in 3-D, “Life of Pi” is a visually gorgeous movie that stretches the limits of visual filmmaking, as it dazzles the eye and takes the use of believable, computer-generated animals to heights never before achieved on screen. Hollywood has reached the place where computer animation and real-life critters are no longer distinguishable. Just stunning.
Furthermore, actor Suraj Sharma is absolutely brilliant in his debut role as the teenage Pi, compelled to carry an entire movie on his back and display every emotion from infatuation to terror to grief and more. If there were an Academy Award for best new actor, Sharma’s selection should be unanimous.
What really sets “Life of Pi” apart, however, is its source material, a full-length film based on the search for God. Not even “The Passion of the Christ” was this determined to talk about God from start to finish.
The question remains, however, is there any truth in this theological epic?
The story follows young Pi, as he grows up in India, where the Hindu religion teaches a vast pantheon of deities.
“In India there are 33 million gods,” Pi confesses. “It’s only natural I should get to know a few of them.”
But more than get to know them, Pi actually believes in them – all of them. When taught of Krishna, Pi adopts the Hindu god as a sort of comic book superhero. When introduced to the love of Christ, he takes on Christianity. When introduced to Islam, he begins to pray toward Mecca. In his spiritual quest to find God, Pi believes all the religions have nuggets of truth that can lead him to the divine.
Along his spiritual path, Pi is even confronted by his severely rationalist father who believes “religion is part of the darkness” and states, “Believing in everything is the same as believing in nothing. … Think rationally.”
Pi, however, rejects his father’s counsel and comes to preach that “faith is a home with many rooms,” meaning the various religions all have a place in the realm of “faith.”
The young man’s faith quest, however, meets a harsh test when his ship crossing the Pacific sinks, separating him from his family and casting him alone on the seas in a lifeboat with a savage Bengal tiger.
As Pi struggles to survive, barely escaping being repeatedly eaten by the tiger while at the same time keeping the tiger alive as his only companion, he cries out, begs for God to reveal Himself, to save Pi from the plight that is starving him and driving him mad.
“God, thank you for saving my life,” Pi says in utter resignation at one point. “I’m ready now [to die].”
Pi’s survival is a marvelous, fantastical, but still believable tale – kind of like the Gospel of Christ. And that’s ultimately the movie’s point.
Because by the end of the film, some clever storytelling reveals there’s more than one explanation for Pi’s survival – and the tiger and the orangutan and the whale and the mysterious island might be more myth than reality. Did it really happen the way Pi described?
“I know it, I felt it, even if I can’t prove it,” he says.
“No one can tell which story is true and which is not,” Pi confesses. “In both, the ship sinks and I lose my parents and I survive.”
But then the story takes a clever, but ultimately false turn. Pi asks the skeptic, “So which story do you prefer?”
“The tiger,” the skeptic answers. “It’s the better story.”
“Thank you,” Pi replies. “And so it goes with God.”
The point I infer – and the moral to the whole story – is that life can be explained in a fantastical but believable narrative (“so it goes with God”), or it can be explained in a grittier, more rational way; but we as people inherently prefer the God tale, because “it’s the better story.”
After all this discussion of faith – as syncretistic and anti-biblical as much of it is – the movie concludes with perhaps the most cynical stance of all: that God might not be real, but we want Him to be (His “story” is better), so we believe in Him.
That’s it? The story that will “make” us believe in God is simply that we prefer the amazing stories to the blandness of everyday life, so we choose to believe?
Thus “Life of Pi,” far from a story that makes you believe in God, is rather the opposite, resolving that God is nothing more than a story people want to believe, because it’s preferable to the alternative.
Instead of fulfilling the profoundly spiritual promise of its premise, “The Life of Pi” ends with the pathetically postmodern doctrine of theological relativism.
The story that really does make people believe in God, however, is the story of a child born in humble circumstance, who taught with authority, turned water into wine and calmed the storm with his voice, who raised the dead to life and healed the lame, who claimed to be God Himself, come in the flesh, one with the Creator, the Father, the great I AM; and the only sign, He said, that would be given to prove His divinity was that He would die and three days later do what no man could ever do, rise from the dead. This is the story that makes men believe in God, and all the more so, because it isn’t a tale told by a single, lone witness on a raft in the sea, but a tale testified as true, first by a band of 12, then by the thousands, and now by a cloud of witnesses that numbers in the millions. This is the story that makes men believe in God, because it’s the only story written by God Himself, its message of love authored in the author’s blood. This is the only story that makes men believe in God, because this story is true, and not just wishful thinking.
- “Life of Pi,” rated PG, contains neither profanity nor obscenity, though there’s an extended set of scenes where children make fun of Pi for his full name (Piscene) over it’s similarity to “p—ing.”
- The movie’s only sexuality is a boy’s infatuation with a girl, a shirtless boy throughout most of the film, and a scene at a pool in which several swimmers are seen in bathing suits, though nothing too revealing.
- Violence in the film consists of the sinking of the boat and several scenes where predators attack either Pi or other animals. Some of these are startling or even a bit disturbing, but none are particularly gruesome. There’s also a tale told (but not seen) at the end of the film about murder and cannibalism.
- “Life of Pi” has far too many religious and occult references to list, for the whole movie is about the boy’s attempt to find and understand God, across several religions. The movie does give praiseworthy attention to the story of Christ’s love and sacrifice on the cross, a segment of the story that could be pulled out and used a sermon illustration in just about any church in America. It also treats Hinduism and Islam with similar reverence. Outside of statues, stories and symbols of the Hindu religion, however, there’s nothing that could be construed as “satanic” in nature.