Life of Pi – Review and Discussion Points
Pi’s family owned a zoo in India, but they decided to sell the animals and move to Canada in search of a better life. The boat sank at sea and Pi was left alone on a life raft with a Bengal tiger. The Life of Pi is the story of his survival, but the story of his survival and his relationship with Richard Parker (the tiger) are not really the point of the movie. They are more like a beautiful setting, a stunning backdrop which is intended to more fully highlight the real point of the story—Pi’s search for a relationship with God.
Pi, especially in his early childhood, had a precious heart that was desperately seeking to know the heart of God. He asks some great questions. He makes some great observations. He also comes to some interesting conclusions…very popular with the world…very inclusive and accepting…also very false, if you measure them by the Bible.
Rather than go into a lengthy discussion about the plot, or one particular point about God or religion, I would rather like to highlight several of Pi’s statements about God, gods and religion, point out some questions or discussion points that those statements bring to the surface, and then point you to some scriptures which may help shed some light on the Biblical perspective. (Please note, that I will only capitalize “God” when I feel the quote is referring to the God of the Bible…all other references to god or gods will not be capitalized.)
Discussion points: Here’s a listing of the discussion points below, so you can scroll down to find the one which most interests you:
- Why Tell the Story?
- Guilt and Religion
- Gods as Superheroes
- Pi’s fascination with Christ
- All Gods are One, or at Least Work Together?
- Pi’s Attitude before Christ
- Which is the Better Story?
Why Tell the Story?:
The story begins with a writer coming to meet Pi to hear his story – one he is told will make him believe in god. At the end, they conclude by discussing whether or not Pi’s story has in fact made the writer believe in god.
- Do you think it’s good enough to just believe in a god, or gods…or is the actual god you choose to believe in (his character and nature) a critical factor?
- Do you see Life of Pi as a positive thing because it gets viewers thinking about the question of the existence of God? Or is it a negative thing because the movie doesn’t clearly point to one, true God?
- If you heard that someone had a story which would make you believe in God, would you want to hear it? Are you, like the writer, looking for something to convince you that God is real?
- Do you know of anyone who has a story like Pi’s, one which, if someone were to hear and believe it, would convince them of God’s existence? Or do you, yourself, have such a story?
- Did you know that in the Old Testament, the Israelites were commanded to repeat the stories of what God had done to future generations so that they would know who God was and His love for His people. When they did so, people put their hope in God. When they didn’t, they were rebellious and unfaithful to God. See Psalm 78 – I call it “The Cautionary Tale”. How does knowing this affect the way you think about Pi and his story, and why and how he told it? He could have told the story of his survival, making the adventure the point, or himself as hero the point, but he was clear from the beginning the point of his story was to make its hearers believe in god.
Guilt and Religion:
Pi said Amen after his prayer for his meal. The writer questioned him, “I didn’t know Hindu’s say ‘Amen’.” Pi replied, “Catholic Hindu’s do. That means we get to feel guilty before hundreds of gods.” The audience laughed. It’s a funny line to be sure, and anyone who has been anywhere near religion knows what close bedfellows religion and guilt make. But a few questions arise from his statement.
- Can you truly be Catholic and Hindu, if you truly hold to the tenets of those religions? Doesn’t Catholicism follow the Bible, in which God says you should have no other gods before him (10 commandments and all), and in which Jesus claims to be THE way, THE truth and THE life? That no one comes to the Father (God) except through HIM? (John 14:6).
- Religions and denominations may indeed inspire and encourage massive servings of guilt, but what about Jesus (who Pi claimed to have found in the Catholic church…Jesus who astounded Pi with his willingness to die for the sins of all mankind)? Is Jesus a promoter of guilt?
- What about Romans 8:1 “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”? What does that mean? If Pi truly found Jesus, should he be also feeling guilt before hundreds of gods as he said?
Gods as Superheroes:
Pi said, “The gods were my superheroes growing up.” He mentions several of the stories of Hindu gods and the qualities of strength, power and/or character they represented.
- How is Pi’s love of his superhero-gods similar to and/or different from our American superheroes…marvel comics, fairytale stories, etc .?
- Is there something positive about his desire to fill his life with stories of those who did great things? Could his love of stories been improved by believing in different stories? Were there better ones he could have chosen?
- You behold what you become. Therefore, how important is it the thing things we behold?
- As mentioned previously, God not only desired that we behold the stories of His deeds, his love, his power and might…but he commanded that we dwell on them, and pass them on (again, see Psalm 78). Who are your superheroes? Have you chosen to make God and His faithful followers your heroes? To dwell on their stories as your inspiration?
- Read Psalm 101 (which I call “Spirituality 101”) and note all the things David resolves – especially for our purposes: “ I will ponder the way that is blameless.” “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.” “I will know nothing of evil.” “I will look with favor on the faithful in the land.” “He who walks in the way that is blameless shall minister to me.”
Pi’s fascination with Christ:
Pi heard about Jesus and was fascinated. “Why would a god do that? Why would he send his only son to atone for the sins of the whole world?” The Catholic priest answered him, “Because He loves us. He made himself approachable. We can’t understand God with all His perfection, but we can understand His Son.” We then hear Pi in the present day commenting on his thoughts at the time about what the priest said. “That made no sense. … But I could not get this Christ out of my mind. The more I got to know Christ, the more I liked Him.” The movie then flashes back to Pi as a boy, “Thank you, Vishnu, for introducing me to Christ.” he says.
- Do you find Christ as fascinating as Pi did? Has the thought of Jesus’ death for your sins become stale to you, or is it a puzzling amazement? What about those around you? Do you assume that others know and/or do not care, or do you realize how many people are mesmerized by the thought, even if they aren’t sure what to do about it?
- How do you feel about the way Jesus is presented here? Do the writers/filmmakers portray Jesus in a way that is consistent with the Bible here, or do they miss the mark?
- How do you feel about Pi’s response to Christ, his fascination and his attraction to Him? How realistic is it?
- When people see Christ in you and/or hear how you portray Him, do you think they find a representation of Him which is as compelling, curious and attractive?
- Pi thanks Vishnu for introducing him to Christ – what do you think about that? Can another god introduce someone to Jesus? What are the implications of such a thing? Do you think Pi feels one god is superior to the other? Does he think both gods are true…and even if Pi does, would both gods agree with that?
All Gods are One, or at Least Work Together?
Pi claims, “I came to faith through Hinduism and I found Christ. … But God wasn’t finished with me yet. He introduced himself to me again, this time through the name of Allah.”
- Pi claims that god was introducing himself to him through his various forms – through Jesus, Hinduism and Allah. Do I even need to ask the questions or is this statement in itself enough to keep you talking amongst yourselves for ages?!
- I mentioned before that in the Bible God says you should have no other gods before him (10 commandments), and that Jesus claims to be THE way, THE truth and THE life? That no one comes to the Father (God) except through HIM? (John 14:6). How do you think Pi would respond to those statements? How do you think a Christian (who believes in the Bible as God’s inspired word – just to be clear, since Pi would call himself a Christian too) would defend his position that the God of the Bible is the one, true God, and wholly set apart and distinct from Allah and Hinduism and all others gods and religions on earth?
- What do you think a devout Muslim would think about Pi’s statements? Would Allah and his followers be any more willing to be lumped together with Jesus and the Christians, than Jesus and the Christians are? Would Islam (its core teachings) be content to be considered not only equal to but the same as the Hinduism and Christianity, and that the gods of all these religions are one in the same?
- It sounds like such a nice idea – that the various religions can all get along with each other because they are really all the same, all following the same god, all just facets of the same personality. How do we know this will work? Because Pi has incorporated them all into his own life. He has become a follower of all and it works…so it should work for the world at large…right? What do you think about this? Can we accept that Pi really does follow those religions in truth when those religions have teachings which exclude the possibility of such acceptance?
Pi’s Attitude Before God:
We may disagree with Pi’s thoughts on who God is, but there is much to be admired in his response to suffering and his humility and gratitude before the god (whatever god he may believe in). Here are some of his responses to God. “God, I give myself to you. I am your vessel. Whatever comes, I want to know. Show me.” “Thank you Lord Vishnu. Thank you for coming in the form of a fish and saving our lives.” “I surrender. What more do you want?” “God, thank you for giving me my life. I’m ready now.” “Even when god seemed to have abandoned me, when he seemed to be indifferent to my suffering, he was watching me. And when I was so close to dying, he gave me rest.”
- What good things do you see in Pi’s responses above?
- How does his statement about Vishnu and the fish reveal a worldview that is different from the Christian worldview?
- How do you think Pi maintains his gratitude, even in the midst of such suffering and tribulation?
- Why do you think a Christian has reason to maintain a posture of joy, gratitude and submission to God, despite the circumstances? (See James 1, Romans 8:28, Philippians 4:4-6, 11-13, for starters.)
- Hindsight being what it is, Pi could see his god’s kindness to him when he looked back, even though circumstances seemed horribly unkind. Compare his last statement above to these from the Bible. “Behold I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor [Achor means trouble] a door of hope” (Hosea 2:14-15). “I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert….for I give water in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people” Isaiah 43:19b-20). “For the Lord comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song” (Isaiah 51:3). What do these reveal about the nature of God? What do they tell you about the desert/wilderness times of your life?
Pi says that god gave him rest (remember the quote from above? “… when I was so close to dying, he gave me rest.”).
- Do you know that rest is very important to God in the Bible—starting with God resting himself on the seventh day after creating the world, to his commandment to maintain a Sabbath or day of rest, to Jesus’s claims that He came to give us rest? What do you know about rest from a Biblical perspective?
Which is the Better Story?
Pi tells the writer two stories and asks, “In both stories—ship sinks, family dies and I survive. So which story do you prefer?” “The one with the tiger. That’s the better story.” The writer answers. Pi replies, “Thank you. And so it goes with God.”
- Why is it the better story? Is the answer to that question based on preference, or does it have something to do with which story better accomplishes a particular goal? If so, what’s the goal, and how could a different goal change the answer to that question?
- In regards of convincing someone there is a god, which story does a better job and why?
- What do you think Pi meant by “And so it goes with God.”?
- What do you think the true story was? Can both be true? Do you think the better story is always the true story, or are there other factors to consider?
- Do you think the author is making a statement(s) about god by making this ending a little ambiguous? For example, could he be implying that belief in god is useful and beautiful, but truth is maybe subject to interpretation? (If so, do you agree?) Or is he possibly saying that god is fantasy, but that we prefer fantasy because reality is too horrible to accept?
- How do you think a person’s interpretation of the author’s intent would vary based on their interpretation of the ending?
Click here to see a collection of quotes from Life of Pi.
Review by Stacey Tuttle