I celebrated the onset of the summer vacation watching Life of Pi on Star Movies. I haven’t read the novel and hence don’t know how far the movie is loyal to it. Experience has taught me that movies generally do much injustice to written texts. I liked the movie, however.
The tiger as well as the other animals on the lifeboat may be an invention of Pi. Though he tells us another story replacing the animals with human characters, he leaves us with the option of choosing between the two tales, without ever telling us conclusively which the real version is.
The film is a kind of fable with a moral. Religions and gods are as good as stories and myths in man’s attempt to discover meaning in life, shows the movie. They are all palliatives in times of anguish. Man liberates himself from his pains by transmuting the pain into a narrative. Religion does the same thing in a slightly different way. Perhaps, religion has the added advantage in the form of omnipotent and omniscient god(s); gods who care so much that they can incarnate in the form of a fish for the sake of a hungry tiger or a god who can send his own son to suffer and die on a cross.
Pi believes that his tale can lead others to god(s). God (let me use the singular form for the sake of convenience) helps in dealing with trauma of all sorts. God is a soothing balm, if not a subliminal drug. God gives hope in times of absolute despair. God makes life meaningful when the going is the toughest.
God helps to keep the enemy within us (the wild tiger or the rapacious hyena) under control. There is wild creature within all of us. We have to confront it and come to terms with it if we are to live happily. Pi confronts the tiger within himself, a creature that is wild and untameable. He learns eventually various strategies to keep the beast under control. Finally the beast will leave him without as much as a grateful look, in spite of all that he has done to keep it alive.
Pi could not have killed the tiger; it was an integral part of himself. It was his alter ego. It his enemy that is within himself. He has gained mastery over that enemy in the way that is possible: partial subjugation and a lot of love.
Learning to love the wild side within us is important if we are to love ourselves properly. When we fail to do that, we end up inflicting others with the all viciousness of the brute.
I liked the movie and may not read the novel. Perhaps, I won’t be able to accept Yann Martel’s views on god and religion. While I accept the therapeutic value of religion and god, I remain a non-believer. Worse, I’m an agnostic in theory. I understand that the novel is totally opposed to agnosticism because it is noncommittal. Atheism is better because it is assertive; it believes that there is no god. Some belief, a leap of faith, is far more valuable than being noncommittal, according to Martel, as I understand.
The problem, here, however, is that faith is not really one’s choice. I tried my best to believe but couldn’t. Yet I find myself drawn irresistibly to religious figures like Jesus and the Buddha. I find Mahatma Gandhi’s view on religion much more charming than his political views. Myths hold much fascination for me. But faith? No. That’s one of the aspects of the tiger within me, I guess. I prefer to be honest to myself and accept the tiger as my own.