Last night Rachel and I watched the Oscar winning film, “Life of Pi.” It was a homework assignment given to me by my friend, Kevin, who forbade us from any more coffee get-togethers until I’d seen the flick. I picked it up from Redbox on Blu-Ray, we put the kiddos to bed, and we settled down to watch…
…well, we didn’t know, exactly.
I mean, we both knew it was about a guy in a boat with a tiger, but we weren’t sure of much beyond that. I knew that the visuals were supposed to be remarkable and unlike anything anyone had ever seen, but I had no sense of the plot. Kevin had given me a bit of a hint – as had his girlfriend, Kristin – but knowing that a movie has something to do with God doesn’t quite constitute a spoiler alert.
So when the first five minutes of the movie were slow pans of various animals inside some sort of sub-tropical jungle/zoo-type-enclosure-thingy, Rachel turned to me and said, “I thought this was about a guy and a tiger.”
“It is,” I said. “But I have no idea how it gets there from here.”
I really didn’t have any idea how the crux of the story – Pi on the boat with a tiger named, strangely enough, Richard Parker – came about. And I certainly wasn’t prepared for the journey. If you’ve not seen the movie I won’t spoil it for you, but it was moving and heart-wrenching and had me rooting for the boy with the unusual name the entire time.
In fact, the plot of the movie wasn’t what really captivated me. It rang true, even with its fantastical elements, and that was what mattered; you can watch a good movie with a great plot and not have it say something to your heart. While the story was fantastic, Life of Pi is powerful precisely because it says something about the nature of faith and the struggle we all endure to make sense of our lives on a daily basis. In Pi, plenty of people find a doppleganger: a person who, as a result of growing up in a multi-cultural world, has a powerful faith in God – be it Vishnu, Christ, or Allah.
Pi isn’t someone whose faith tradition was simply handed to him; he comes to believe the various things he believes because of his own search for meaning and purpose. He seeks out God in so many places because he believes God may be found. He sees the hand of God in places others can’t be bothered to look. And while I may not subscribe to the polytheistic ecumenism that Pi embraces, I can certainly say that the desire to believe in something, to see the majestic at work in my life, is a longing I can identify with.
Being adrift in a boat with a tiger isn’t a perfect metaphor for everything, but it’s apt for where my family finds itself right now. We are at the mercy of God’s hand; we are moved by His leading; we are aware that the danger before is also something of terrible beauty. And like Pi, we’re simply looking to come ashore somewhere safe. I can’t remember when a movie collided with my life so perfectly.
Is it for everyone? Nope. There are plenty of people who won’t be able to get past the fact that Pi, born in India, doesn’t stick with one religion over another. Others won’t be able to swallow the admittedly dream-like story. But for those who are looking for something undefinable, something outside the normal channels, this might be a movie for you.
I can’t promise it will say anything to you, but I can tell you that it stuck with me in quiet ways; long after I’ve returned the movie to Redbox, I’ll still be thinking about the visuals, and the story, and the power of a heart that is open to life’s great moments, no matter how they arrive. For that, I am grateful.