In Life of Pi young Pi(scine) Patel experiences first a spiritual search, and then a physical journey. Growing up, Pi is raised by a Hindu mother and atheistic/rationalist father, but India being the multi ethnic and cultural mosaic it is, Pi encounters the followers and faith traditions of Islam and Catholicism during his formative years, and attempts to practice them side-by-side with his Hindu upbringing when he is an adolescent searching for answers. Though Pondicherry, where Pi grew up, had been a French colony, and thus, had some Catholics and Catholic Churches, Pi had only entered a church for the first time on one particular occasion because his older brother Ravi had dared him to drink the holy water.

This picture is a visual representation of Pi as a young boy approaching the Christian (Catholic) church in a search for truth.

This picture is a visual representation of Pi as a young boy approaching the Christian (Catholic) church in a search for truth.


At precisely the opportune moment, as he is mentally absorbing the visual spectacle of the sanctuary, statuary, and the depiction of the crucifixion, within the church, Pi meets a priest, who offers him a glass of (non-holy) water, surmising that the boy must be truly thirsty to have been drinking the holy water. The priest, amazingly bearing not merely a practical but a physical resemblance to Jesus with his brown beard and white robe (the white cassock being standard and sanctioned for hot climates), Persona Christi in image as well as in purpose, explains the sacrifice of Jesus upon the Cross to the wondering boy as an act of absolute love and likens the boy’s spiritual search to that desire, declaring him effectively a Christian by desire.
When Pi is shipwrecked and cast adrift in a lifeboat with limited rations, the story he initially tells involves sharing the lifeboat with several animals from his father’s former zoo, including but not limited to the adult male tiger, for whom he catches fish to eat in order to prevent the tiger from eating him. Near the beginning of the lifeboat journey, the tiger and the hyena kill and eat the zebra, who broke his leg jumping into the lifeboat.
When interviewed by Japanese ministry of Transportation officials after his rescue, because they do not believe him, Pi changes his story. The second story he tells portrayed the animals with whom he shared the lifeboat as allegorical representations of some other humans known to him from the ship, and he ended the sojourn in the lifeboat as the sole survivor because cannibalism was involved. The more often he is interrogated, the more often he changes his story in small but subtle ways. The viewer is left wondering which “story” is the true one, if any of them indeed are, and Pi being shown in a hospital bed in a weakened condition is a reminder that all his stories are suspect, as at that time, he is reportedly suffering from dehydration, a concussion, and most likely, isolation-induced psychological trouble as well.
Though President Barack Obama praised the version of the story in the novel for having seemed to him as “elegant proof of God”, alas, the movie is precisely the opposite, as grown-up Pi, recounting his tale, and the multiple versions of his experiences in the lifeboat,leaves his listeners with the option to believe whichever version of the story they choose, on the grounds that the “truth” is whatever seems “better” (believable) to them.

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