‘Life of Pi’ Ending Explained

Published 1 year ago by , Updated February 19th, 2014 at 10:25 am,

Life of Pi Ending Explained Life of Pi Ending Explained

Ang Lee’s Life of Pi is racking-up critical acclaim (read our review) and pre-award season buzz along with solid box office numbers. Though, for every mention of the film’s beautiful 3D or amazing CGI tiger, there’s a fuddled viewer confused by the movie’s controversial ending.

Readers of Yann Martel’s original novel (the ones who made it to the end) have already faced the challenging last-minute question presented by the story’s narrator, but filmgoers expecting a fanciful adventure at sea have been understandably caught off-guard by the finale. No doubt, viewers will debate the ending with friends and family – but to help steer discussion we’ve put together a brief analysis of the Life of Pi ending, explaining why the final question may not be as cut and dry as some moviegoers seem to think.

It goes without saying that the remainder of this article will contain MAJOR SPOILERS for Life of Pi - the movie and the book (especially the ending). If you do not want to be spoiled about either, turn away now.

Life of Pi Shipwreck Life of Pi Ending Explained

For anyone who hasn’t seen (or read) Life of Pi and isn’t concerned about having the ending spoiled, Pi’s adventure concludes in a Mexican hospital bed – where he is interviewed by a pair of Japanese Ministry of Transport officials. The agents tell Pi that his story – which includes multiple animal companions and a carnivorous island – is too unbelievable for them to report, so Pi tells them a different version of the story: one that paints a much darker and emotionally disturbing variation of events. After both stories have been shared, Pi leaves it up to the viewer (or reader) to decide which version they “prefer.”

Personal “preference” has larger thematic meaning, when viewed in the context of the overarching story; however, before we analyze the ending (via the question) in greater detail, we’re going to briefly lay out the two versions of Pi’s story.

In both accounts, Pi’s father contracts a Japanese ship to transport his family, along with a number of their zoo animals, from India to Canada in an effort to escape political upheaval in their native country. The stories are identical up until Pi climbs aboard the lifeboat (following the sinking of the cargo ship) only re-converging when he is rescued on the Mexican shore. The 227 days that Pi spends lost at sea are up for debate.

Life of Pi Richard Parker Life of Pi Ending Explained

The Animal Story

In this version of Pi’s tale, the cargo ship sinks and, during the ensuing chaos, he is joined on the lifeboat by a ragtag group of zoo animals that also managed to escape: an orangutan, a spotted hyena, a zebra with a broken leg, and a Bengal Tiger (named Richard Parker). After some time, Pi watches helplessly as the hyena kills the zebra and then the orangutan before it is, subsequently, dispatched by Richard Parker. Pi then sets about conditioning the tiger through rewarding behavior (food and fresh water), so that the two can co-exist in the boat. Though Pi succeeds, the pair remain on the verge of starvation – until, after several months at sea, they wash ashore an uncharted island packed with fresh vegetation and a bountiful meerkat population. Pi and Richard Parker stuff themselves, but soon discover that the island is home to a carnivorous algae that, when the tide arrives, turns the ground to an acidic trap. Pi realizes that eventually the island will consume them – so he stocks the lifeboat with greens and meerkats and the pair sets sail again. When the lifeboat makes landfall along the Mexican coast, Pi and Richard Parker are once again malnourished – as Pi collapses on the beach, he watches the Bengal Tiger disappear into the jungle without even glancing back.

Pi is brought to a hospital – where he tells the animal story to the Japanese officials. However, when the agents do not believe his tale, the young survivor tells a different version of his journey.

Life of Pi Suraj Sharma Boat Life of Pi Ending Explained

The Human Story

In this version of Pi’s tale the cargo ship still sinks, but instead of the ragtag group of animals in the lifeboat, Pi claims that he was joined by his mother (Gita), the ship’s despicable cook, and an injured Japanese sailor. After some time, fearing for the limited supplies in the boat, the cook kills the weakened Japanese sailor, and later, Gita. Scarred from watching his mother die in front of his eyes, Pi kills the cook in a moment of self-preservation (and revenge).

Pi does not mention his other adventures at sea (the carnivorous island, etc) but it’d be easy to strip away some of the fantastical elements in favor of more grounded (albeit allegorical) situations. Maybe he found an island but realized that living is more than just eating and existing – deciding to take his chances at sea instead of wasting away in apathy on a beach eating meerkats all alone. Of course, that is purely speculation – since, again, Pi does not elaborate on the more grounded human story beyond the revelation that he was alone on the lifeboat.

Life of Pi Whale Life of Pi Ending Explained

The Ending Explained

Even if the connection between the lifeboat parties was missed, the writer makes the connection for the audience (or readers): the hyena is the cook, the orangutan is Pi’s mother, the zebra is the sailor, and Richard Parker is Pi. However, the film’s juxtaposition of the animal story and the human story has led many moviegoers to view the last-minute plot point as a finite “twist” – which was not the original intention of Martel (with the book) or very likely Lee (with the film). Viewers have pointed to the look of anguish on Pi’s face during his telling of the human story in the film as “proof” that he was uncomfortable facing the true horror of his experience. However, the novel takes the scene in the opposite direction, with Pi expressing annoyance at the two men – criticizing them for wanting “a story they already know.” Either way, much like the ending of Inception (read our explanation of that ending), there is no “correct” answer – and Life of Pi intentionally leaves the question unanswered so that viewers (and readers) can make up their own mind.

Facing the final question, it can be easy to forget that, from the outset, The Writer character was promised a story that would make him believe in God. In the first part of the narrative, we see Pi struggling to reconcile the differences between faith interpretations (Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam) – acknowledging that each of them contained valuable elements, even if they tell different stories (elements that together help him survive his ordeal at sea regardless of whether or not he was there with a tiger).

As a result, the larger question is impossible to answer definitively and, as mentioned, the “truth” of Pi’s story is of little concern to Martel or Lee. The real question is – which story do you, the viewer/reader prefer? Interpretation is subjective but the question is intended to serve as a moment of theological reflection. Are you a person that prefers to believe in things that always make sense/things that you can see? Or are you a person that prefers to believe in miracles/take things on faith? There are no right or wrong answers – just an opportunity for introspection.

Life of Pi Island Life of Pi Ending Explained

Pi is faced with a heavy challenge: telling a story that will make a person believe in God. Some listeners might remain unconvinced but in the case of The Writer, who openly admits that he prefers the story with the tiger, and the Japanese officials, who in their closing report remarked on the feat of “surviving 227 days at sea… especially with a tiger,” Pi successfully helps skeptics overcome one of the largest hurdles to faith – believing in the unbelievable.

Since Pi marries The Writer’s preference for the Tiger story with the line, “and so it goes with God,” it’s hard to separate the question entirely from theology. Evidenced by his multi-religion background, Pi does not believe that any of the world’s religions are a one-stop shop for the truth of God – and his goal is not to convert anyone to a specific dogma. Instead, his story is set up to help viewers/readers consider which version of the world they prefer – the one where we make our own way and suffer through the darkness via self-determination, or the one where we are aided by something greater than ourselves (regardless of which version of “God” we may accept).

That said, aside from all the theological implications, and regardless of personal preference, it’s insular to view the ending as simply a dismissal of everything that Pi had previously described (and/or experienced) – since, in keeping with his view that every religious story has worthwhile parts, a third interpretation of the ending could be that the “truth” is a mix of both stories. Like Pi and his three-tiered faith routine, the viewer/reader can always pick and choose the parts that benefit their preferred version of the tale.

Life of Pi Suraj Sharma Life of Pi Ending Explained

The “truth”: Pi survived for 227 days at sea, married the girl of his dreams, had children, and lived to tell two stories.

Like any quality piece of entertainment, a lot of this is subjective and there are multiple ways of interpreting the Life of Pi ending, so feel free to (respectfully) share your interpretation with fellow moviegoers in the comment section below.

For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check out our Life of Pi episode of the SR Underground podcast.

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Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for more on Life of Pi as well as future movie, TV, and gaming news.

Life of Pi is now playing in theaters everywhere. It is Rated PG for emotional thematic content throughout, and some scary action sequences and peril.

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2,794 Comments - Comments are closed.

  1. I truly appreciate most, if not all, of the comments that have been posted here. They have somehow made my experience of this movie more meaningful–and it’s as if I am still watching the movie! Masterpiece of the director Ang Lee and the writer Yantel Martel indeed.

    It is great to see that we all can see different things and appreciate different aspects of the movie… like how we would with life. Hence most people love it or a very few hate it. And seeing past the differences of various tones or levels, it all boils down to the importance of our humanity that we all can see: beauty, love, strength, endurance, and life.

    No doubt there are other great movies or better movies, and people should not feel threatened with comments for Life of Pi like “this is a great movie” or “the best movie I have seen”. We are all entitled to have our own favourites. Same goes with different comments and viewpoints or interpretations of the movie/story itself. What other people feel, think or see from the movie should not deny our own. It is on such notion that I would like to share my version of the story.

    Both versions should not match 100% although there are links and parts that reflect the truth (whichever side you choose to see). Let say the truth is the cruel human story (I know you may think that you may now think that I am an atheist… but not really, I do believe in God in many ways, almost like Pi, of various religions, but this is not about me now). Even even in that short recount at the hospital, that version of truth was not 100% accurate as it was more a version Pi summed up to entertain or satisfy the reporters. So, he embellished it. Hence I do not think he actually ate his mother. Pi’s mom never made it to the lifeboat. (I will explain this point later).

    The animal story is a metaphor… lots of metaphors and symbolic reflection of what actually happened. And some even are metaphor in a metaphor; if there’s ever such thing. I know it sounds crazy but let me try to explain. If we consider Pi’s recount of his life from the beginning as true events, up to the point where the ship sank, everything after the point when he and the lifeboat dropped into the sea is where the metaphoric story (the trauma) began. Maybe there’s where things are too much to bear or beyond what Pi could rationalize, and it was happening so fast (losing all he had in an instance, all held true in his life–family, love ones, the life and nature he thought he knew).

    Metaphor 1: Zebra and the Asian sailor. I think when Pi went back to the cabin to try to rescue his family and saw the zebra swimming, that was truly a zebra. Later when he was pushed and urged to the lifeboat by the Asian sailor. Once the lifeboat fell into the water, his flashbacks (metaphoric version of the truth) kicked in. The zebra jumped into the boat from the sinking ship. Now this zebra is the representation of the sailor.

    Metaphor 2: Hyena and the chef. The chef made only couple of appearance in the movie. It’s clever of Ang Lee to use a well-known actor (Gérard Depardieu) for only 2 short (but important) scenes: at the kitchen to show his cold and ‘meat-loving’ nature, and his hands-on skill or dominant nature such as how he was commanding others and Pi while launching the lifeboat. So, when Pi saw how the ship sank into the deep ocean, he started to realize that it was becoming a fact that he had lost his parents. That’s when his emotion surfaced and he called out in tears “sorry” or “goodbye” to his dad, his mom and his brother. This is the evidence that Pi’s mom actually died in the ship wreck. Later when the hyena appeared in the lifeboat, that’s the reflection of the chef in Pi’s metaphoric narration of the cruel truth.

    Metaphor 3: Orangutan and Pi’s mum. The orangutan came floating by on a pile of bananas. Although bananas do float like most things will especially in the sea, the way and position the orangutan was sitting on the floating bananas like a Hindu or Buddhist goddess on a lotus was quite uncanny. Let’s put science aside and based on the story/movie itself; if we take it from the reporter in the end who said that “bananas don’t float”, maybe that’s the clue or point-reference the writer or director wants us to base on; but that’s not the most important point here. In Pi’s darkest and most confused and lost moment in the lifeboat stuck with the chef and injured sailor, with the ordeal he had to witness, Pi’s first and most primitive belief as a traumatized child came back to him. That’s his mother. He missed his mom so badly then, and through her he found some temporary salvation. And this is the metaphor inside a metaphor: Pi’s mom came to him in spirit or in his heart to support him emotionally and mentally. And it could be the vegetarian (and the mom) in him that tried to stop the chef from harming or eating the sailor. At first, that kind/vegetarian self of Pi managed to take control of the situation, but that didn’t last very long as the chef’s carnivorous nature fought back. Sadly, the orangutan lost, and this was when Pi’s own animal instinct was triggered–the tiger appeared, which will be Metaphor 4. But before I moved on to that, a couple of more things I must highlight about the orangutan and Pi’s mum. First, the orangutan appeared only once before the shipwreck: in the cage on board. Pi looked at it with sympathy… Another evidence why the orangutan wouldn’t have escaped the shipwreck, and it floating on a banana was just a metaphor or imagination. Second, if you recall an earlier spectacular scene where it depicts Pi’s mum’s Hindu religion when they were launching lit flower floats by the river at night during a festival (to free the dead souls), it will be easy to relate to the way the orangutan came floating by as how Pi’s mum came back to him in spirit.

    Metaphor 4: Richard Parker the tiger and Pi. Most people can understand this part and many have explained this metaphor more beautifully than I can. Basically, I think the tiger is Pi’s untamed self, his animal instinct that’s critical for his survival.

    Metaphor 5: The carnivorous island, the tooth in the flower and the string. This is the height of his imagination and also the loneliest part of Pi’s survival. It represented him losing his ground, perhaps trying to make himself feel better as he was getting used to eating meat (I don’t think he actually ate the chef or the sailor; he might have eaten the fish or the maggots from the dead body… but I don’t really want to go there). So, the island is like a fantasy land as he had been out in the sea by himself for a while by now, so he most likely started to hallucinate and talk crazy to himself, like one seas a mirage in the desert. Although he was probably feeling quite content that he was getting a hang of sea life and his survival skill (with food, from fishing maybe), he suddenly realized he was turning into something that was not him and that he would eventually die out in the open sea. The island looks like a human or Buddha, or whatever it is, represents his self-actualization. The flower represents the love or answer; Pi asked his girlfriend what the flower hand gesture meant earlier and she said “the flower in the forest” (when the lover/subject found love). So, when Pi first felt content about his survival at sea, it was as if he found an answer he could settle with, that he started to accept his fate. However, in the flower was a tooth. The tooth represents a cruel fact that he would continue to eat meat… and eventually he would die in this self-deceiving and hallucinated pleasure–physically, he would not last in the lifeboat forever (or for much longer); and mentally, sin would eat him alive. So, as he decided to moved, he tied the string to the root, representing that he was determined to find or recover his vegetarian or original self again; his girlfriend tied that to his wrist as she was determined they will not ‘separate’ and somehow reunite one day. He thought Richard Parker would not follow or be abandoned but then he somehow still needed his animal instinct to survive.

    Metaphor 6: Questing God and the last sight of the tiger. As Pi was faced with one challenge after another, he had to stay strong and hopeful to fight all tormenting circumstances at the open sea. Just when he thought he was doing a good job believing in himself and keeping his faith, yet another setback threw him back. Frustrated and defeated, he questioned God, ‘pissed off’ with life–it just sucks!! Even his animal instinct couldn’t fight back in situations like this. So Pi surrendered himself and accepted it(life/nature)/Him(God). Finally, he embraced his faith wholeheartedly. When Pi was washed ashore, Richard Parker left without turning back or saying goodbye. It was sad for Pi to know that back to his civilised world, the tiger in him is no longer needed and must leave him. Because he had depended on this instinct and somehow got quite used to it after 227 days, he was very sad. But he wasn’t proud of many of the things the tiger in him had done, and the tiger must not look back. And it must not come back. It’s much better this way, or this may be the only way, for his sanity.

    I hope to hear any comment from anyone. If you don’t like what I say above, it’s just my point of view like you have yours.

    douglas711@gmail.com

    • Douglas, you brought out a lot of things I had not tied together, like his girlfriend tying the string bracelet onto Pi’s wrist and Pi tying the string around the root on the floating island. And the way the orangutan was floating in the sea like the fire lanterns in the Hindu ceremony when he was a child.

      Before the goat scene Pi was telling his father that he knew animals have souls, that he had seen it in their eyes. His father told him that when you look into an animal’s eye’s, you see the reflection of your own emotions.

      I noticed, too, that on a beautiful night, Richard Parker was looking into the water, amazed at what he was seeing. The camera went to Pi, who was on “all fours”, in the same position as Richard Parker, looking into the water.

      Also, early on, Pi’s brother dared him to drink the holy water in the church. I’m thinking there is some way to connect the holy water with the sea which took everything Pi held dear and with which he had to do battle to go on living.

      • Andrea Reed. Thanks for all your sharing and insights. Yes, I agree about the part where Pi saw souls in animals, and also the mirroring of Pi and Richard Parker on that beautiful calm night.

        Also, when Pi went to the church to drink the holy water, the priest asked him: “Are you thirsty?” And in the story, Thirsty was the tiger’s original name; Richard Parker was the hunter’s name who found the cub. Quite witty, ay?

  2. My 2 cents worth on “And so it goes with God”

    Most, if not all religions contain fantastical stories full of miracles, divine acts etc. They may not make any sense to a logical mind today, but consider this; If 2000 years ago, a shepherd saw an alien spacecraft, how would he describe it to his friends? If he’d said ‘a round shape with a glow around it’, he’d be called a whacko. If he’d described it as a ‘Chariot pulled through the sky by horses that beathed fire’ his friends would be able to visualize it better, and his story would have a better chance of getting passed down through the generations.

    We tend to form our idea of God based on stories in scriptures and holy books written thousands of years ago for and by a people of a different era. Therefore, it’s natural to conclude that they are nonsense, and/or that God doesn’t exist.

    In the movie, Pi gives us two versions of the same story. One fantastic and memorable, and the other logical and forgettable. Then he asks the writer which one he prefers, and the writer chooses the fantastic one. The logical story may have been what actually happened, but it’s the fantastic one that stays in your mind, because it explains more with it’s emotional content.
    So, when Pi says ‘And so it goes with God’, i think what he’s trying to say, is to not be too logical about interpreting the often colorful and exaggerated descriptions we may see about God in different religions, but rather, to try and understand what they are trying to say about him through those descriptions.
    Just like Pi was trying to explain what happened on the boat, through R. Parker and the other animals.

  3. I think Richard Parker could be GOD in the story. When the writer says “And you were the tiger?” Pi doesn’t answer, only to ask another question, “which story do you want to believe?” He said all along he could not have survived without Richard Parker (God) and he was upset when the Tiger left without looking back, saying he wanted the Tiger to acknowledge they would be parting ways for good. However, God wouldn’t leave for good, he’s always there. The tiger walking away on the sand also reminded me of the “Footprints” poem that says “when there were only one set of tracks in the sand, it was then that I carried you”.

    Just another interpretation to think about! Great movie to spark all this kind of thought and debate!

    • Paul F., I love your interpretation of what Richard Parker was and the reasons for a lot of parts of the story. I love the “Footprints” poem, too. It’s true that God would never leave, and Richard Parker wasn’t really leaving. Richard Parker was still a comfort to Pi all those years later – just like God was, too.

    • OKAY… does anyone not remember in the beginning of the movie how much Pi is intrigued by Christ’s crucifixition…..well, right before Christ died He says ” Father, why have you forsaken me?” God turned away from Jesus in that moment and in that moment Jesus felt abandoned, betrayed, and alone…utter despair ( just as Pi felt when Richard did not turn back to look). I have heard it said that God did that so Jesus would know how that felt and I’ve also heard it said that God HAD to turn away so Jesus could die, like Jesus could not physically die unless God turned away. ANYWAY, my first thought when Richard stopped at the jungle and stood there was that scene symbolizing the abandonment Jesus felt when God turned away. Richard could not look back at Pi because he IN FACT did love Pi and it hurt him and he knew they could not be together, it was easier for him to keep going. It’s also very symbolic that as soon as Richard was gone, people came. Either, Richard left so not to scare away people OR Richard was never really there. Also, another very symbolic part of the movie I feel that has been neglected is the cover on the boat. That cover was only moved once and that was when Pi took it off to show Richard how beautiful the lightning was & it ended up having a very negative consequence, Richard got scared and almost drowned, and Pi had a severe reaction to seeing Richard so afraid, but also moving the cover made Richard move and allowed Pi to get under, the water pushed Richard under the cover and next to Pi and that was the 1st time they had physical contact. That cover protected Richard and hid him away for most of the movie. I want to know the right purpose behind the cover on the boat.

    • Pi chose to name himself– to raise himself above the level of ordinary physicality (pissing) and instead choose to be an inspiring and miraculous person, connected to the infinite / Divine. In telling the story about his shipwreck experience, he is doing the same thing, choosing to be an inspiring and miraculous being, connected to the infinite / Divine. I think he does believe in God as infinite (all religions) and ultimately un-knowable (like the ending of the story). When we die, we don’t know whether it will be a horrific, purely physical experience… Or a beautiful phenomenon where we are able to live side by side with an overwhelmingly powerful being (who can at times be terrifying) and also see awesome mysteries of life that we never even suspected. When we contemplate our own mortality, we get to decide which “story” we will believe. And Pi suggests that he prefers the miraculous and inspiring version. That is the way he wants to live and die, and the story urges us to follow his example and believe in God.

    • Pi chose to name himself– to raise himself above the level of ordinary physicality (pissing) and instead choose to be an inspiring and miraculous person, connected to the infinite / Divine. In telling the story about his shipwreck experience, he is doing the same thing, choosing to be an inspiring and miraculous being, connected to the infinite / Divine. I think he does believe in God as infinite (all religions) and ultimately un-knowable (like the ending of the story). When we die, we don’t know whether it will be a horrific, purely physical experience… Or a beautiful phenomenon where we are able to live side by side with an overwhelmingly powerful being (who can at times be terrifying) and also see awesome mysteries of life that we never even suspected. When we contemplate our own mortality, we get to decide which story we will believe. And Pi suggests that he prefers the miraculous and inspiring version. That is the way he wants to live and die, and the story urges us to follow his example and believe in God.

    • Pi chose to name himself– to raise himself above the level of ordinary physicality (pissing) and instead choose to be an inspiring and miraculous person, connected to the infinite (the endless abstract concept Pi.) In telling the story about his shipwreck experience, he is doing the same thing, choosing to be an inspiring and miraculous being, connected to the infinite, rather than a brutal and instinctual animal. I think he does believe in God as infinite (all religions) and ultimately un-knowable (like the ending of the story). When we die, we don’t know whether it will be a horrific, purely physical experience… Or a beautiful phenomenon where we are able to live side by side with an overwhelmingly powerful being (who can at times be terrifying) and also see awesome mysteries of life that we never even suspected. When we contemplate our own mortality, we get to decide which story we will believe. And Pi suggests that he prefers the miraculous and inspiring version. That is the way he wants to live and die, and the story urges us to follow his example and believe in God. Which is why his story “will make you believe in God.”

  4. Remember that guy with the little legs and big chest and arms or whatever….Richard Parker looks as if he has little legs and a big front body section at the end scene where he’s walking off and it’s a close up of just him so idk it confused me if the tiger was god or that one dude who had that body type

  5. Did anyone notice that in an early scene when Pi was studying Catholicism, he looks down on a prone statue of Jesus that looks almost identical to the panorama view of the island, which is clearly a profile of a person lying down? Also, there is a symbolic connection between the early reference to the Hindu god Krishna, who ate dirt, but when he opened his mouth, it contained the universe. I need to watch the movie again to see if there is also some symbolic connection to Islam, but to me, the island is clearly a symbol of Pi’s religious faith, not only in the visual connection to the image of Jesus, but also to the “carniverous” island that provided both Pi and Richard Parker with all their material needs.

    • The scene where the boy found land and laid in the sand, his face was covered with sand a potential connection to eating sand. Remember, the prior scene eating sand and then opening mouth to reveal the universe? I think the author might be saying, ok, the boy ate sand to be ready, I’m about to reveal the universe to you… Then the movie moves to which story do you choose… I think the author is saying let me show you the universe by making you think about why you should believe in God.

      A HUGE chunk of the movie showed you what the real story is, the one with the Tiger. In essence the author is showing you the TRUTH, showing you beautiful things some almost too awesome to be true. If we stop and look at the sky we see the TRUTH and beauty, if we stop and look at a bird we see TRUTH and beauty, its all around us. Yet when with in a few minutes of verbal story telling of the darker version, many of us probably left thinking that is the TRUTH.

      When I left the theater, I thought about this and decided that the author wanted us to have the opinion that we see the truth/beauty/miracles every day, every moment and yet does not believe in God and choose to believe in the harsher reality of things.

      Life is more beautiful if you believe in God.

      CJ

    • Its mentioned in the movie that Vishnu floats on the cosmic sea, i have not read anyone comment on his manual and how he loses it, i feel as though it is used to explain the different bibles of the world and how at some point you have to take matters into your own hands or else you wont survive the storm. The writer asks us to choose which ending we prefer but i see it as in both endings the outcome was the same and there’s something to be said about that… I just have too much to say about that i cant quite put my finger on it.

  6. The island is shaped like vishnu lying in the infinite ocean of the universe. Vishnu is the protector of life, rescuing Pi from the ocean and giving his life new meaning.

  7. I feel the carnivorous island represents Pi eating meat to survive.

    • exactly!

  8. PI= viewer/reader: each of us is unique (number doesn’t end), and integral part of the whole (pi used to calculate a circle).

    Which story do you believe?:
    - Majority of movie is spent detailing the TRUTH with beautiful cinematography. Yet only a tiny verbal story was presented on the darker potential reality of canibalism.
    - I think the author is saying that if you look around at the beauty of the world, many things are miraculously beautiful, I see humming birds when I walk the dog and they are miraculously beautiful to me. Yet when I walked out of the movie, I initially thought the canibalism story must be the truth. But after thinking about it a bit while driving home, I realized that author is saying that the Tiger version of the story is the truth and showed it to the viewer in such beautiful detail. The tie in to theology is that God shows us such intricate beauty in life yet we don’t believe God. Author is saying that let me tell you a story and hopefully it will help you realize to believe in God.

    I choose to believe in God. When I stop and really ‘be’ in the moment, I know I’m connected to a greater whole. To me that whole is God.

    Recently the ‘God’ particle that scientest found is stuff that basically says that there is a field of some sort that is everywhere in the universe which gives matter mass. Perhaps that field which connects everything actually is God? Whether it is or not, I know that by knowing that I’m part of the whole (fact) and believing that the whole is God, I feel connected, at peace and loved.

    There is so much more to this movie… loved it!

    • Love your definition of Pi

    • I saw it a second time and tried to grasp things I may have missed the first time. I could see it a third time and enjoy it just as much as the first.

      The more I think about the “beautiful” story, the more I think it is the real one. The story with Richard Parker, while beautiful, was still full of frightening situations for Pi and seems to make more sense in many ways than the dark story. The story teller shows us that the boat was loaded with food. Why would there have been cannibalism when food was available? The food was not lost until the whale incident later in the story. When Pi was telling the dark story to the Japanese insurance agents I got the impression that Pi was alone for most of his time at sea which would have made the cannibalism an earlier part of the adventure – while food was still available.

      When Pi was still on the ship and saw some of the animals on deck, he screamed to someone something like, “Who let the animals out?”. He saw the zebra swimming when he was trying to get to his family below deck. It seems that it was reality that at least some of the animals were out of their cages and does not seem out of the realm of possibility that some of them ended up in the life boat with Pi and that the three animals died the way the camera showed us.

      The darker story is so unthinkably horrible that I cannot imagine why Pi would have made it up. This confuses me. Pi could have just told them, if he wanted to make up something, that he was simply the only one who was lucky enough to get away from the sinking ship. Period. Why make up something so awful that the insurance agents looked at each other in horror and disbelief? These men on official business ended up putting the Richard Parker story on official documents for the shipping company.

      I continue to meditate on all the facets of this wonderful story.

      • I have thought that maybe the story with the cook, sailor, and his mother was the real story and Pi was the one who had to eat them to survive, and because it involved his mother it was so traumatizing that he had to create a false reality to survive. ( I DONT REALLY BELIEVE THAT BUT IT WAS AN IDEA THAT POPPED INTO MIND ). Although he does ask Orange Juice the Orangutan, “where is your boy?” when he first gets on the boat, and Orange Juice understand his words and looks back at the water with longing making me beleive that represents his mother. One main reason I do not believe the story about the people is because he did not include many details and feelings that you would expect from such a horrific ordeal. He cried one tear but with the story about Richard, he was utterly devastated.

    • please avoid attributing the aspect of the Higg’s Boson (God particle) to any aspect of the divine. The nick name of God Particle is actually a shortened version of the God Damned Particle, which was so “named” due to the difficulty the physicists were having in finding proof of it. The media shortened it to God Particle.

  9. I’ve just spent a half hour thinking the movie over and have come to what I believe the movie, along with the characters symbolize. Pi, the human represents the religious side of Pi. While Richard Parker represents the raw calculated nonreligious views instilled by Pi’s father. At the end of the story Pi says he wished he got to thank his father because without his teachings he wouldn’t be alive today, which he also says about Richard Parker. Throughout the story these 2 sides of Pi struggle with one and other. Like when Pi has to kill the fish in order to feed Richard Parker and when Richard Parker must learn to exist along side of Pi. This struggle culminates on the island where Pi realizes that in order to ever see the world again he has to use both aspects of himself in harmony. Once he realizes this he is able to leave the island, where he washes up in Mexico. The tiger leaving symbolizes the merging of Pi’s 2 halves into the man he becomes. The reason the tiger doesn’t look back to say goodbye is because it never leaves, it just returns back inside Pi till it is needed again. Also the reason Pi never says goodbye to the girl is because he is not leaving forever.

    While this interpretation explains the movie itself it doesn’t address whether the animal story or the human story takes place. I say that they both take place. Someone who believes in a God and watches the movie will view the animal story as what truly happened. Where as someone who has no religion will tend to view the human story as true. The overall story isn’t about the truth behind either story, instead it is a demonstration about how both religious and non-religious views are needed. Richard Parker or rational thinking is needed to keep us “alive” in situations. Where the religious half gives us a purpose and helps us see the beauty of the world. Another example of this would be when Richard Parker is looking out on the ocean he only sees fish as the food source, in contrast to where Pi looks out and sees beauty. I could keep going all night making connections, but I’d love to hear others ideas and to see them shared!

    • Loved the interpretation.Pi describes a circle and the circle was split in two halves as the boy and richard parker.

      • perfect, i knew his name was significant.

  10. sacraficing the goat is a masonic ritual.

    • also representing a scared little boy (goat) forced become one with manhood (tiger)

  11. I’ve seen this film 3 times. No confusion as to what happens at the end of the film. The boy made up a story about the tiger as he couldn’t deal with the death of his entire family, not to mention the fact that he killed the chef (who killed his mother).

    C’mon Mr Kendrick you can do better, this was a very good film.

    • Hi Paul77. I agree with you: a very good film and the end of the film.

      One thing I see differently which I would like to share: I don’t think Pi’s mom ever made it to the lifeboat. Hence the chef didn’t killed her.

      Yes, the orangutan represents Pi’s mum. It came floating by on a pile of bananas. Although bananas do float like most things will especially in the sea, the way and position the orangutan was sitting on the floating bananas like a Hindu or Buddhist goddess on a lotus was quite uncanny. Let’s put science aside and based on the story/movie itself; if we take it from the reporter in the end who said that “bananas don’t float”, maybe that’s the clue or point-reference the writer or director wants us to base on; but that’s not the most important point here. In Pi’s darkest and most confused and lost moment in the lifeboat stuck with the chef and injured sailor, with the ordeal he had to witness, Pi’s first and most primitive belief as a traumatized child came back to him. That’s his mother. He missed his mom so badly then, and through her he found some temporary salvation. And this is the metaphor inside a metaphor: Pi’s mom came to him in spirit or in his heart to support him emotionally and mentally. And it could be the vegetarian (and the mom) in him that tried to stop the chef from harming or eating the sailor. At first, that kind/vegetarian self of Pi managed to take control of the situation, but that didn’t last very long as the chef’s carnivorous nature fought back. Sadly, the orangutan lost, and this was when Pi’s own animal instinct was triggered–the tiger appeared, which will be Metaphor 4. But before I moved on to that, a couple of more things I must highlight about the orangutan and Pi’s mum. First, the orangutan appeared only once before the shipwreck: in the cage on board. Pi looked at it with sympathy… Another evidence why the orangutan wouldn’t have escaped the shipwreck, and it floating on a banana was just a metaphor or imagination. Second, if you recall an earlier spectacular scene where it depicts Pi’s mum’s Hindu religion when they were launching lit flower floats by the river at night during a festival (to free the dead souls), it will be easy to relate to the way the orangutan came floating by as how Pi’s mum came back to him in spirit.

      Even in that short recount at the hospital, that version of truth was not 100% accurate as it was more a version Pi summed up to entertain or satisfy the reporters. So, he embellished it.

    • Paul77, you describe this the same way as a friend of mine does. It is, of course, a legitimate interpretation, as are those who understand the Tiger story to be the “true” or “real” story.

      But to suggest the one ending (boy makes it up to cope with trauma) is to ostensibly relieve the very tension the ending is intending to maintain. The story is about the collision of worldviews and the different ways the world is experienced by different cultures – thus, it is about multiple-cultural realities. Pi is the most “traditional” Indian in his family, his brother and father are the most “westernized” (read “Cartesian rationalism & Baconian science; Enlightenment!), and Pi’s mother is a bridge between the two worlds.

      Now, to “read” the movie like a story in the bible where only two people (or God and a person) are interacting without someone witnessing to report it all, Pi’s experience at sea is ultimately inaccessible to us – anybody! The movie tacitly gives us Pi’s culturally specific (traditional worldview) experience, while the ending draws us modern western Europeans into the fray with our own explanation, in our own post-enlightenment terms, of the experience.

      As an adult, Pi is, of course, able to converse in both vocabularies since he grew up in a family that hosted both vocabularies. But, as an adult, telling his story to the author, what draws a tear from Pi is the “traditional” story, since that is the one that is true, as far as Pi is concerned. The invitation laid out in the movie for the viewer to contemplate is “which worldview do you prefer”?

      “Self-Reflexivity” is often brought up by westerners like us to claim why and how our worldview is superior to the traditional worldview(s). Unlike ours, traditional cultures “are not introspectively self-reflective” about the hows and whys of their experiences,” and so, our self-reflexivity supposedly guarantees the superiority of our worldview over theirs; ours is “real,” ours is “the truth,” while theirs is “primitive” or “delusional” or even, “fanciful”… and thus the argument goes. But such a claim emerges out of, and is a construal of reality from our perspective.

      Which reality do we prefer?

  12. Andrea Reed. Thanks for all your sharing and insights. Yes, I agree about the part where Pi saw souls in animals, and also the mirroring of Pi and Richard Parker on that beautiful calm night.

    Also, when Pi went to the church to drink the holy water, the priest asked him: “Are you thirsty?” And in the story, Thirsty was the tiger’s original name; Richard Parker was the hunter’s name who found the cub. Quite witty, ay?

    • Douglas, thank you! I could not remember the tiger’s original name. That seems important, but I cannot remember how Pi answered the priest. I know he took a sip of the water in the glass handed to him.

      I really do think I need to read the book to gain insight into some of this. I’ve seen hundreds of movies, plenty of them inspiring much thought and meditation, but never one like this!

      I LOVE the way I’m having to think about this story and I love reading all the comments here, even the ones with which I don’t agree. This film has inspired some very creative thinking and perhaps some of us are also inspired to ponder certain things about our own lives.

  13. The island had the shape of a human body, and he ate roots and meerkats of it. Maybe in real life it was a human body, and he ate the meat (roots) and the worls (mercats). At night the island would be carnivorous, and the fresh water spring would turn toxic. The body spoils after some time, maybe thats what happened. But what story do we preffer to believe the fantastical one or the ugly truth?

  14. life of pie! i just want to know at the end of the movie after pie tells the story to the reporter they show richard parker stop! before he goes to the jungle did he see the boy (pie in his mind). or stop and think of pie

    • Zeena, I’d like to think that when Richard Parker hesitated for a moment before entering the jungle, he was thinking of Pi. Richard Parker and Pi had needed each other and counted on each other for survival. If, as some writers on this site think, Richard Parker was not real and only the symbol of Pi’s will to survive, it could be that Richard Parker’s hesitation was Pi’s last thought before passing out on the sand, “Don’t go! Stay with me!”. Pi’s higher self knew that he didn’t need Richard Parker any more because they had reached safety, but Pi’s basic self didn’t want to let go of him.

      These are just my thoughts, and I have not figured anything out yet! This movie really makes you think!

      • Andrea reed ! Thank u for answering me !
        No it was all real i have 2 kittens that are almost adults, if i could only tell you the love we share and all the night hugs. They waking me up to feed them and telling me to play with them buy bring their mouse in their mouth and dropping it on my foot to play with them. I know that richard parker is a tiger, but we all have god in our hearts and yes richard parker stop for a moment only as a tiger would have known its best way to say bye. I belive that god makes us go through defiulties in life to make us stronger and know compassion. And all the religions that Pie try to seek answers to, was there with him on that boat. To know that faith and willingness is what all gods want us to know in life.

        • The truth we know without doubt: Pi survived because of his intelligence, will to live, and most importantly, his faith.

          What an amazing way to tell this story!

  15. There’s so much in this story. The human story was the real truth but he wanted to restore people’s faith, which is why he told the animal story. The tiger represented his survival-self. Animal’s instincts are to survive. Though, he still sees a “soul” because they are still loving creatures. In the beginning the goat was eaten by the tiger. The goat being his innocence and being taken over by the tiger. On the boat he constantly struggled with having to be this animal to survive. Finally we see him accept the tiger and become friends with it. This was him accepting the faith and survival instincts were both needed. His survival instincts relied on him believing or “hoping” as the movie kept pointing out. Rewinding a little, he had several different religions he believed in. Meaning, it doesnt matter which GOD you believe in as long as you do, you will still be happy and see the beauty in things even when your going through something so horrible. If you believe or have hope, you can get through anything, as long as you have faith. The island that he found was actually him relying on faith completely which is why you see the island is a side profile of Vishnu. The tiger back on the boat represented survival. The meerkats represented self reflection “mirrors”. He knew if he had relied purely on faith he probably wouldnt have survived. It would kill him (cannibal island). So he had to go back to survival mode. But he also knew he wouldnt have survived without faith. He needed both. His dad taught him how to survive. He said he wouldnt have been alive without his dad, he also said that about the tiger. Survival. Overall knowing the truth doesnt mean you cant beleive in whichever GOD you choose. He’s saying, you can choose which kind of life you live in. The cruel, brutal world,or you can have faith and see the beauty of life even when times are dark.

    When they finally made it on land and the tiger stood before the jungle, this was his survival-mode leaving him. He knew that he would be OK and he did find true safety. His survival mode didnt really leave him, he just didnt need it anymore.

    Sorry I know I jump around a lot but there was so much to this story and so many connections in mulitple areas. Its really hard to explain it all.

  16. hey

  17. So, here’s my take on the ending. The “human” story is the true one. Horrifying as it may be, that is life. Pi is uncomfortable with how “dark” that story is so he makes up one that he finds “preferable”. This is how he has truly come to find “God”. He realizes that there IS no god, that the entire “god” story is simply a made up story that most people find preferable to a life that they think is meaningless without a god. So, when he “finds God”, what he is truly saying is that he understands that there is none, but the “god” story is comforting. And so when the writer character states that he PREFERS the tiger story, Pi states, “and so it goes with God,” indicating that God is a made up story, but it is preferable to harsh reality.

  18. The writer and director have succeeded in putting ideas in our heads. Surprise for Ang Lee (director) who supposedly doesn’t believe in God.
    God doesn’t support multiple beliefs about him. However, In the end we all get to choose in what we believe in.

    • I don’t think Ang Lee was trying to make a statement about God, but about faith. Maybe he wasn’t “making a statement” at all. He is a master storyteller and created a work of art that is beautiful and inspiring.

      The right parietal lobe of the human brain has a large part in determining our level of spirituality. Scientists have said that many parts of the brain work together to this end, but that particular area may be the most important, according to what I read.

      In other words, each of us is at the mercy of our individual biology as to whether or not we believe in God. Of course, a person like myself believes that God created this part of our brains as he created all other things. A non believer would say that we evolved this way randomly or something like that.

      I respect what everyone believes or doesn’t believe and think our Creator made us this way for reasons we can only wonder about but never know.

      Some of us have felt the presence of God and others have not.

      Pi had faith. Pi believed in God. Pi learned early on that there is more than one path to God. Pi survived and prayed over the meal he put on the table before eating. His uncle, the swimmer, had told the journalist that Pi had a story that would “make him believe in God”.

      Would just the fact that Pi survived at all make the writer “believe in God”, or would the possibility that a tiger made the journey and survived with Pi be the miracle that would inspire belief in God?

      I LOVED this movie. Forgive my rambling. I MUST read the book.

      • You absolutely MUST read the book! Best book I’ve ever read.

  19. Don’t forget the life boat. If he did not get on the boat, there is no story to tell. We can believe in all sorts of gods to help us to get through life and we can look at and deal with our lives from all kinds of angles but in the end, only the One who can really save can get us safely through to the other end

  20. I was pleased to read the above analysis, and had my own idea of what Richard Parker represented. I have not thought deep enough to reconcile my odea with the other religious aspects mentioned above, but here goes:
    I supposed that Richard Parker was the name Pi gave to himself as the tiger. He grew up ashamed of his name, and if he did indeed commit the acts ascribed to the tiger, it would help him separate himself from what he did. He says the tiger would not look him in the eye when he disappeared into the jungle, which for me meant that humans do indeed have a soul, but he had to become, in a way, a souless animal to commit the acts of murder and cannibalism to survive. Pi could therefore not ” look himself in the eye” and come to terms with what he had done, and so created the alternate story.

  21. The animal story is obviously false. Just search what Richard Parker means. Pi means that God does not exist as people believe in him as they fear death, just as how the Japanese believed the animal story as they feared the truth.

  22. Hummmm. Horrible events often cause denial, avoidance. I love the story of the Tiger, “Thirsty”, but as a realist, I believe the story of the sailor, cook, and mother. I also think that there may have been cannibalism. My mind, recoils, and I fall into the embrace of the beautiful story with the gods dancing, the symbols of eternity, Vishnu, Ganesh (although not mentioned), miracles and all of the other sparkling super-heroes and miracles that we’ve created. It isn’t a question of which ending is right — it’s an interesting Janus effect of which one we believe. There is no real answer. So – I love fiction and beautiful stories — but 220+ days at seas probably means something different to me.

    • I think you’ve nailed it, Pep Boy. At least for me.
      Phenomenology is hard to overcome Faith is more charming – but reality is facing the hard facts — for me. But, as you said, we all view the cosmos differently.

  23. Your interpretation is dead on, I would add one little twist. Richard Parker like the other animals initially in the boat could have represented elements of his psyche that slowly died. Richard Parker could be a manifestation of the boys conscious and subconscious will to survive. I think the beautiful things he sees are hallucinations brought on by his isolation and malnutrition, as other great profits and religious leader usually go into seclusion and refrain from eating to see visions from God. I think the boys experience is a common occurance in human nature, when survival becomes so extreme the mind create ways to cope with the situation, distract from it, and bring meaning to it. Maybe what we think of as God is merly an embedded coping mechanism which takes our anguish and turns it into beauty(distractions) for the sake of convincing us to continue with life. Mabey we all have this capacity, maybe it it only comes about when we struggle at a basic level with grief, anguish, pain, and turmoil. When change and chaos befall us we must draw a deeper strength from within–a tiger, if you will, to help us through it.

    • Richard Parker was not God, it was a tiger, a symbol of uncontrollable desperate survival. It was the first lesson he learned as a boy from his father at the zoo. Richard Parker was an element of the boy’s psyche, when the boy made it to mexico, the manifestation disappeared, but stay with him at a deeper level, the tiger did not look back because it did not leave just regressed, because it was no longer required.

  24. Overall the central theme is the search for God. Pi is searching for God his entire life and in the end he finds GOD! He had to surrender all, he leaves his country, his love (girlfriend, family, when he surrenders all (in the middle of a fierce storm the clouds break through and the sun shines through) he finds GOD. All you have to know is that God loves you! Pi screams I surrender and at that very moment his flesh (his primal survival self)almost drowns…In order to find God you have to surrender all, leave everything behind including self and entrust yourself into HIS arms, then you found HIM!!! It is hard to leave everything behind but you have to in order to find life, he who wants to live must die to self.

  25. I accept that “the human story’ is what happened in “reality” … but the question, when put to the journalist, receives the answer that he prefers the “animal story” … in other words, the harsh reality makes the journalist choose to believe in the fantasy version … he has been forces by the bleakness of the reality to believe in God … and there, in a nutshell, you have one of the great debates of recent years … Dawkins and Hitchens etc, VS. The Religious. The movie is so much tougher than it appears.

  26. have to know…..doesnt the carnivorous island eat the meerkats too??? Pi says it disappears so that would mean they would all die by drowning anyway and why were they SO friendly? NOT scared at all even letting a tiger snatch it up & eat it. i’ve watched meerkat manor before…they dont act like that!

  27. it IS possible that the second story is real but Pi did not tell the whole truth. it could be that the second raft was there because yes they all turned cannibal at some point, but the last one was Pi having to kill & eat his own mother. So traumatic for him that he decided to stay on the raft and not the boat since that would be where she died and where he ate her. Possible even keeping some meat under the cover of the boat. OR maybe he did not eat her and she died from starvation on the boat and he couldnt bare to be there.

  28. I have two opinions one either everything was just his imagination and Richard Parker was his carnivorous side which needed or without it he would not survive. Or, everything was real with the orangutan, hyena, zebra and tiger. In the end I would prefer to think that pi returned to that place where Richard Parker left him and called him, since pi had trained him to return to him, and in he end he does mention he has a cat.

  29. Which story is true is not really the point. Much of the conjecture here indicates that most people tend to ascribe truth to the story they prefer anyway. I think the main point is that life cannot be summed up so easily into one category or another. The universe and living creatures have a capacity for violence and gentleness, beauty and ugliness etc. We/universe are as the island. The universe/we have a quality that cannot be reduced, called it love or beauty. The ability to perceive this, although not perfectly ‘rational’, does not require belief or deception based on choice or fantasy. The irrational is real, just not approachable by the rational. Believing in God to give life meaning is only an indication that one does not see/feel it. Pi is humanity, God and the universe and the people and the animals are all symbolic and real representations of him/it.

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