‘Life of Pi’ Ending Explained

Published 2 years 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.


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. My question is: what happens when you don’t believe or believe either story? What then do you consider yourself? A believer of God or a believer of what happens in reality? Athiesm or just a lost soul? If there is even such a thing as a soul;)

  2. For the analysis and thoughts of Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi, you can google Q and A with Life of Pi Author – ABC News and also google Yann Martel – an interview with author at Book Browse. Mr. Martel explains his intent in writing both versions of the story and which story he prefers to believe (the first one, with the Tiger) and why he feels that way.

  3. Definitely a movie that “stays” with you for days on end. I thought of it and mulled it over in my mind for quite some time. There are so few films that can have this effect. Years ago, ‘Castaway’ had the same effect on me.
    Great comments on thread. I have a “third” theory or alternate synopsis ( that I’m sure others have also considered ) one in which Richard Parker’s presence on the boat was imagined. Pi created the whole story and dutifully, or maybe the right word here is ‘faithfully’ wrote it all in his journal. The lonliness and isolation would have otherwise made him lose his mind or possibly even commit suicide. So maybe it was not the tiger or God that saved Pi but his own imagination. Also the supplies on the boat and the survival guide sure helped too.
    A crying shame that this flick did not win Oscar but it’s no surprise that a pic wherein old hollywood producers are the heroes did.

    • Mygreenenvy, Ang Lee won the Oscar for Best Director. That’s no small thing. I figured that Best Movie contest was between Life of Pi and Lincoln. When neither won the Best Movie Oscar, the adult Pi might have said, “And so it goes with God”.

    • The answer to this Movie is hidden in The Name(Ha-shem) of the Boat “TsimTsum” …. It is a term from Kabbalah.

      If you were to create a world, the first thing you would need to master is tsimtsum. Tsimtsum is a way of being present in your absence. Tsimtsum literally means “reduction.” For a Kabbalist, a tsimtsum is a reduction of the divine energy that creates worlds—something like the transformers that reduce the voltage of the electric current leaving the turbine generators, until it’s weak enough for a standard light bulb to handle. So too, the divine energy needs to be stepped down so that the created worlds can handle it. Kabbalists describe innumerable such tsimtsums (tsimtsumim is the actual plural form) that generate innumerable worlds. Our world is the final stop, since at this point the degree of tsimtsum is so extreme that the divine energy is almost imperceptible. As a result, our world contains created beings that feel they are here just because they are here, no further questions asked. One tsimtsum more, and nothing at all could exist. Existence requires some sort of connection to the initial source of everything — meaning, to the Creator.

      There’s another type of tsimtsum, described by the master Kabbalist, Rabbi Isaac Luria, known as “the Ari.” It is the primal tsimtsum, and it is unique from all other tsimtsumim. Much like the irrational number pi, the primal tsimtsum transforms an infinite circle into a measured line. The Ari described an initial, pre-creation state of infinite light, within which there was no place for anything at all to be. Before creating any worlds, the Creator withdrew that energy completely, resulting in a total void within the infinite light. Only then did He extend into this void a metered line of light from the encompassing infinite light, with which He generated an innumerable series of worlds.

      Tsimtsum, then, is the way G‑d makes space for us to have our own world. He hides His light from us, so that we can make our own choices. But He remains immanently present within that hiddenness. In a way, He is yet more present in His absence than in His presence…..

      The Sage and the Child

      To grasp this parable, imagine yourself as an ancient wise teacher teaching a fresh young pupil. You have deep wisdom to provide, wisdom that you gained through much effort—by sitting at the feet of enlightened sages in your youth, sipping in their every word. By years of contemplation of those words, removed from all disturbance, immersed in serene thought. Through your many travels and experiences. And through those days the sky opened for you, and with sudden clarity you saw how all the pieces fit together as a single, simple whole.

      You wish to transmit all of that to your young pupil—but how can you? The youngster lives in an entirely different world than yours, shares none of your experiences, has never tasted the depth of insight achieved through hours of endless meditation on a single theme. Pour out all your knowledge, and your pupil will gain nothing but shock and confusion.

      But there must be a way. You begin to think yet more deeply about this wisdom which you wish to transmit, more intensely than you have ever thought before. You seek out its very essence, the point from which it all extends. But to do that, you must transcend the form this wisdom takes in your own mind, shedding the context of your own thoughts and world, so that you are left with only the core, the quintessential, zero-dimensional, simple point.

      To find the quintessential point, you need to put yourself aside.
      Once you’ve isolated that point, you then look at the world of the pupil—not as the pupil sits there with you, but as the pupil lives in his own world, sees and understand his own world, experiences life from his own perspective.

      Only then can you draw a line from the quintessential point you’ve found, down into the pupil’s world. You’ll attempt to think as though you were using this pupil’s mind and not your own. You’ll seek out ways the pupil might grasp the point on his own. Each time you find a mode to express this wisdom, you won’t be satisfied with that. Again and again, you’ll find ways to step it down yet more, bringing it closer and yet closer to the world of your pupil.

      But the job is yet incomplete. Problem is, with all that stepping down, it still remains an idea. The pupil does not live within a world of ideas. The pupil lives in a world of things he can touch, people he can know, and happenings with which he is familiar.

      So there’s yet another step for you to take: To create a parable. A parable will dress your idea in the artifacts of this pupil’s world. You’ll create a story that the pupil can easily follow and remember, that makes some sense to him right away, and which he feels comfortable to explore. His own space, in which he can experience your ideas, not as ideas, but as elements of a story that could happen in his own life.

      When you think through this parable, you see in every detail all that you wish to teach. To you, the teacher, there is really no parable—there are only your thoughts, told in story form.

      But to the pupil, there are no ideas, just a story. And that is as it must be. At first.

      Now you, the elderly teacher, must leave this student be. If he is a sincere student, he will tell the story to himself again and again. As he gains more knowledge, experience and wisdom, he begins to unravel the story, understanding the parable, reaching into the layers upon layers of insight hidden within it. Until, after perhaps forty years of earnest seeking for truth, he begins to understand this wisdom as his teacher once did.

      Indeed, all this time, his teacher was living within him.

      G‑d in Dark Places

      What did you, the teacher, do? You applied tsimtsum. You found a way to reduce and package your wisdom within the world of the pupil. But to do that, the first step was to leave your own self out of the picture. Only then were you able to find a point of wisdom stripped of your own understanding.

      Yet, even then, to bring that point into the world of your pupil, you had to put your own mind aside repeatedly, to think with the mind which you desired to reach.

      In the presence of your own thoughts, there was no room for the pupil’s thoughts. By transcending yourself, you gave of yourself. So that now, in your absence, you are acutely there.

      By transcending yourself, you gave of yourself.
      So too, the Creator puts aside His infinite light to make space for a creation. For us, the created beings. Yet the very emptiness of that space is Him as well, and for Him the light shines as intensely as before.

      Of course, there are differences. You had a pupil. The Creator begins with nothing. He must conjure up the pupil as well. You gave only of your mind. The Creator gives of His essence and being.

      So next time you feel yourself in darkness, having to pick yourself up from the ground and start all over again, to make tough decisions and meet gruesome challenges—at those times, think of all your life and all your world as nothing more and nothing less than a parable. A deep, rich parable. And in that parable, in every detail, hides G‑d Himself.

      Most conspicuously, in the dark corners. In the tsimtsum. – Chabad

  4. Does anyone believe that Richard Parker symbolized his father ? It seems logical – Pi feared his father in ways,especially during his lessons in survival. Remember the scene where his father is cradling him by the pool and then suddenly casts him off in the pool to learn how to swim? Of course there is the lesson with the lamb as well. At the end, Richard Parker leaves him without any display of affection – just like his father did. At the same time, he confirms that he would not have survived without him. To me the central conflicts were about religion and the relationship with his father.

    • Kevin, your analysis might be the right one, but the person who threw Pi into the pool was his uncle, the one with the big chest and skinny legs.

    • That’s right. It was Mamaji that taught him to swim. And no, I disagree with his father not showing him affection. His father cared so much about him but is a rational man. This was due to the fact that western medicine saved him from polio and not faith, which Pi explained at the beginning. His father only did what he thought was right and that is to teach him how to act on reason and not on blind faih, which in a way is the right thing.

  5. In the bilbe, there are sacrifices to God, both animal and human. Could one see the goat that was sacrifice to Richard Parker in this light?

    • Magpie, that thought crossed my mind, too. I felt that the goat “sacrifice” signaled the end of Pi’s innocence, foretold the violent tragedy that was coming in the future for Pi and his family, and demonstrated the basic instincts that would come into play to facilitate Pi’s survival in the sea.

  6. Can’t say much.

    ….Life Changing

  7. Really enjoyed this book. Very thought provoking. As I was reading, found myself reflecting back on the movie Contact, based on a book of the same title, by Carl Sagan. What a great story of God, written by an avowed atheist. Ellie, character played by Jodie Foster, is a scientist who bases everything on science, reason and the rational. She is a lifelong religious skeptic, but has a very real experience that can not be confirmed using scientific data. Truly a God moment. Oddly, the scientific research also has something to do with the number pi. A great story. Check it out if you haven’t seen it.

  8. As an atheist, I was scornful when I first saw that this story boldly claimed to persuade people to believe in God. It’s an absurdity.

    When Pi comments about the officials’ preference for the animal story, “And so it goes with God,” the first interpretations I could think of were not sensible to me: (1) God communicates through symbols, just as the narrator does (suggesting truths of religion are only apparent to those who decode mystical metaphors?); (2) God prefers stories about animals, just as the officials do (suggesting God disapproves of human savagery?); (3) God tells appealing fantasies in holy books, just as Pi does (suggesting God encourages illusions?). None of these interpretations seems to fulfill the story’s bold claim at all.

    Then it occurred to me that perhaps the story does not try to provide evidence that God actually exists but only to show why people might prefer to believe in God than rather than not do so. In the end, the officials who interview Pi would rather believe the fantastical animal story than the realistic story of murder and cannibalism. This is like preferring to believe there is a God giving meaning and purpose to life rather than to believe there is no purpose and the world is just a savage place where the fittest survive.

    At present, this seems to me the most sensible interpretation. But it only suggests the obvious and commonly recognized idea that religion is “the opiate of the masses.” Surely it is true that many prefer the delusions of religion to the alternative, which is much like preferring to be drunk and happy rather than sober and depressed.

    But it’s a false dilemma anyway, since misery isn’t the only alternative to belief, and most generally rational people make decisions based on facts rather than superstition. So they go to doctors and other professionals for help instead of just praying, for instance.

    • Steven, if I were speaking to you face to face my voice would be soft because I say these words in a humble way, but why do atheists always sound so sure of themselves? What proof do you have that God does NOT exist? None. Just as I have nothing, I’m sure, that would convince you that God exists. It’s just that I know that believing something does not make it so. Atheists seem unable to think that what they believe may not be true and real.

      This is not a personal attack. I respect what you and others believe and I am aware that most atheists and agnostics are usually people of high intelligence. It just seems like being an atheist is like being a born again serpent handler (just to name an extreme branch of Christianity). It somehow seems that both minds are closed to anything that does not fit what they already think.

      I am not trying to sound mean. I’m just pondering…..

      I love the way this movie has inspired people to think and express some very intimate feelings.

      • Wow – While I think Steve did start off a little high and mighty in his Atheism I found his end interpretation quite striking with how true it can be. I’m not sure what I believe – in regards to religion but putting beliefs aside Steve’s theory does have merit.

        This story has certainly messed with my mind – that is why I searched out others opinions of the ending. I think everyone’s interpretations are valid. Me…… I’m walking away saying that I would LOVE to believe the animal story however every inch of my senses say this is the story Pi has made up in his mind so that he can go on living with the things he had to endure and do to survive.

      • Great response Andrea. *tips hat*

      • Anyone can say anything if it can’t experimentally be shown as fact or fiction. That is how many theoretical physicists sustain a career. The facts outside of religion have a more consistent trend of validity than religious accounts, however. I like the idea of religion and an idea that everything is here as a reflection of an infinite love and genius of a higher power. The farther forward on the time-scale we travel, however, the more that hope is overshadowed by scientific discovery. Which religion is absolute? Is it the one that gets the most support? If that’s the case are we following a theology or a “PR” campaign? I’m not competitive in nature and wouldn’t ever have the heart to tell someone that what they are doing or what they believe is wrong if it’s not hurting anyone else. Science is “objective” or is supposed to be. Science generates answers and religion generates questions. I have always loved asking questions and learning, the answers are the fruit of my labor.

    • Probably the most accurate interpretation. The story is indeed giving you a choice whether you prefer in a false meaningful story of survival or the harsh reality.

      Richard Parker symbolizes, Pi’s basic animal instinct. Made him threw out all the things he believed in his tree religions and killed a man after he saw his mom got killed. Probably, and I say PROBABLY even made him eat the remains of both the cook and the Japanese sailor because at that point he probably did not know there were supplies in the lifeboat.

      Made him also decide to get off an island which he can survive but could not really live a life because he’s alone. Meerkats is a symbol for finding friends, don’t know though if that means anything in the story. Night time symbolizes the end of the day which means his enemy was time, it wasn’t the island eating him. Each night represents time passing which means he will sooner or later die on that island of old age or other natural cause without really having lived a life.

      • Good points. Thank you.

  9. My first reaction was the same as Wrong’s. Therefore I thought Wrong was Right.

  10. Yes,yes,yes!! Amazing answer to my question-”what’s it all about?” Thank you for that. The film….breathtaking and thought provoking writing that left my daughter and I talking for hours-though she’s only 10yrs old!! Renews my faith in art, the goodness and wonder of life, and the incomprehensible miracles and magic of God.

  11. I believe the tiger represented who Pi needed to become. He showed up when Pi needed to be strong and disappeared when he was no longer needed.

  12. In my interpretation, the Bengal tiger Richard Parker is a combination of Pi’s innermost weaknesses as a human being together with his ferocious instinct to survive, both of which can only be revealed in the direst of circumstances. This also explains why after the direst circumstances come to an end on the Mexican beach by the jungle when Pi is saved by “a member of [his] own species”, Richard Parker “unceremoniously” disappears into the jungle without saying goodbye or even looking back. He is no longer needed.

    As for the choice given by Pi of what story is preferred, notice that he did not ask what story you believe. He asked what story you prefer. This distinction is very meaningful, as I will explain. Pi pointed out that in both stories the ship sank, he lost his family, experienced great suffering, and was saved in the end. So, both stories have equifinality. That is, that a given end state can be reached by many potential means. This analysis makes me concur with Ben Kendrick’s conclusion that the last line, “and so it goes with God”, is a reference to the equifinality of most religions. Therefore, if you have already decided to believe in God, it is meaningless to ask what religion you should believe. Instead, you should choose the one that you prefer, or a combination of all religions, or a combination of perhaps only the major four, as Pi did.

    • As an epilogue to my comments above, I want to add that I am an agnostic. That is, I believe that the existence of God is unknown and unknowable. Moreover, I tend to lean to toward the atheist side of Agnosticism. However, I disagree with and disapprove of previous interpretations aimed to pit people who believe in God and religion against atheists and vice versa. A story of survival can make you believe in God if you think of it as a miracle. Conversely, a story of survival can also represent a combination of human endurance, ingenuity, and luck. The Life of Pi is a wonderful story of the survival of a very beautiful human being, Pi. I am glad that in the story he survived. Whether he was “delivered” by the hand of God or saved by “Richard Parker” is for each one of us to decide in the intimacy of our inner most personal thoughts and feelings. So, there is no room here for proselytism or anti-religion-ism.

      • Hector, thank you. Well worded and nonjudgmental. This beautiful movie has stirred up some very passionate responses! I have enjoyed reading these and love it that Life of Pi is not just a book or movie, but a learning experience.

        • Thank you for your words Andrea.

      • I’m still thinking about the movie and some of the analyses offered in here by various people. Although I like many of the interpretations posted here, I would still prefer to use the one that I offered up as the skeleton and add a little more flesh from other people’s interpretations to enrich it. I am still not very convinced by the interpretations posted here about the floating island, so I will offer up my own. Close to the beginning of the movie, Pi tells the writer about how he [Pi] was first introduced to God. Pi tells about some Hindu gods, and then speaks about Vishnu. Pi says, “Vishnu sleeps floating on the shoreless cosmic ocean… and we are the stuff of his dreaming”. Something interesting to me is that right after Pi says these words to the writer, Pi’s father tells the boys not to be dazzled by those lights and that religion is darkness. One possible interpretation of the floating island is that it represents Vishnu. A deeper interpretation is that the floating island represents religion and that Pi found strength and renewal on the island (that is, in his belief in God). However, Pi had to leave the island, in a practical sense, to save himself because religion can only do so much for you (as was the case with Pi’s father’s experience with polio), and it can have a dark side (as Pi’s father once said) represented by the island becoming acid and carnivorous by night. I will explain further. Right at the moment of leaving the island, Pi says, “And when I was beyond all hope of saving, He [God] gave me rest… then gave me a sign to continue my journey”. A possible interpretation of these words can be that religion can strengthen you and make you a better person, but if you take too much from it (represented by staying on the island), it can destroy you by turning you into a bad person (as has been the case in the world in the form of religious wars and other acts perpetrated in the name of God). Therefore, it is up to you to take the best that religion can offer you and save yourself through your own deeds.

        • As an Atheist who is married to a devout Christian (don’t ask), I love your perceptions, Hector. Especially your last sentence: “Therefore, it is up to you to take the best that religion can offer you and save yourself through your own deeds.”


          • Thank you Scott! You must have a very interesting family life, not unlike Pi’s family life back in India when he was a child!

  13. my interpretation is, whole nautical journey in the movie depicts the journey of life (samsara from a Buddhist’s perspective). Tiger is Pi himself. In fact tiger is his inner self/mind. If you don’t tame the tiger within you or if you cannot control your inner self/mind, you cannot find God (or nirvana). That is the real message of the movie. Floating island is the life we spend on earth. It is a beautiful place to live, but there are hidden dangers. If you think the island (life on earth) is a heaven and if you get stuck, you cannot find God (or nirvana). Pi left the island and tamed the tiger on his way to the Mexican shore. Pi reaching Mexican shore depicts finding nirvana. In Buddhism, finding nirvana means, there is no existence for you and your soul/mind after that. That is why Pi says tiger just left after that. Tiger or his inner self/mind does not exist anymore.

    • Very good analysis. Thank you!

  14. Utter rubbish, I do not believe in god , however I do believe pi’s animal story and the carniveras island!

  15. Hector, Right on – in the God part!! I’ve been trying to decide on how to say that same thing. I’m still working on another slight twist of the story that I haven’t heard yet.

    • Thank you for your words Gary.

  16. I believe that Richard Parker may have left to go get some help in the ending. But never seeing Pi again was a risk of getting help.

    • Good point! I love it! I was bent backwards laughing until my ribs hurt. Thank you!

  17. I saw the tiger as being his own primordial instincts, a mind capable of cooperating out of necessity with a little training. Loneliness is a big incentive to cooperate with, man is not an island.

  18. I believe that the second story is true. Richard parker is pi, and himself in the first story is actually god looking over him, keeping him safe and alive.

  19. I believe that the second story is true. Richard parker is pi, and himself in the first story is actually god looking over him, keeping him safe and alive…

  20. I believe the animal story is a fantasy to help Pi continu his life afterwards.

    The real story is that under extremely horrific circumstances, Pi commits murder even though he never new he was capable of such a act. The tiger represents his “animal” instinct to survive.

    When he is left alone on the lifeboat, he fears the tiger, meaning he fears that side that he never new about himself.

    He slowly tames it, and befriends it, and the tiger (animal or survival instinct) helps him survive through this ordeal.
    At the end, as soon as Pi reaches land, the tiger leaves.
    Pi then cries because he can finally show vulnerability and live his emotions without risking his own life. His survival instinct is no longer needed.

    Pi created that story because the cruelty of this ordeal is too horrible to make sense.

    Much like any religion, fantasy helps him get through life.

    • Sorry for the spelling mistakes, my first language is french.

    • Good interpretation Simon. It adds to our understanding and appreciation of the story. Thank you!

  21. This article doesn’t mention the rat.

    • Uchibenkei, I had COMPLETELY forgotten the rat! With a smile I say, “Oh no! Now we have something else we must ponder!”

      • You’re right! Now I gotta think about the rat, Andrea! I’m sure something will come to me! :-)

        • Hector, please hurry and figure out the rat. All this stuff is driving me delightfully crazy! I don’t know how much more I can take!

          P.S. I can’t figure out how to put a “happy face” on this post!

          • :-) ;-)

          • Hi Andrea!

            I’m glad that you’re still around here!
            First, type two dots like this :
            Then, type a hyphen like this -
            Then, type a close parenthesis like this )
            Then submit your comment, and the website translates it into a happy face. You can also do a winking face.



            PS. I’m still trying to figure out the rat. Maybe it was just a vermin common on a cargo ship! ;-) And it is not surprising that the rat was the first aboard the lifeboat. Rats are said to have a ferocious will to survive. I love the scene with the rats running away from the water in “Titanic”. Do you remember it? :-)

            • Hector, thank you for the instruction about happy faces! :-) I guess I’m the only person on the planet who did not know that!

              I do not recall that particular scene in “Titanic”. I’ve seen it once and it’s been awhile. I could enjoy it again and probably will soon.

              I really like the way you express yourself. I have many good thoughts that I often just cannot put into words. I am a bit jealous of anyone able to articulate so eloquently. I’m thinking that you are a professional writer or teacher. Whatever your profession, you are a talented writer.

              • Thank you, Andrea! Your intuition is correct. My profession involves a lot of writing. I’m a university professor of management. I’m about to finish my PhD in management with a concentration in strategy and minors in social psychology, cognitive psychology, and statistical research methods. Hence, reasoning, doing research, and writing are not only first but also second nature to me. It’s my livelihood! What do you do?

                • Hector, I thought “professor” but put down “teacher”. Thank you for your response.

                  To answer your question, I am one of those people who has not “found” my true self yet. I am still searching after all these years. I have more time than I used to, so I want to use it well. I write a little poetry, some short stories (never published….yet!), paint and sketch a bit. I am very creative, therefore, have a sensitive appreciation for the creativity of others.

                  In my life, in reference to art, it is that the creative process itself that is most important. The product of the creativity is secondary. Creating art is a kind of therapy for me.

                  Someday, maybe a creation of mine will be viewed/read by others and make a difference in someones’s life.

                  One of the things that has amazed me most about this particular master piece upon which we have all been commenting, is the amount of life energy “stirred up” by it! This work (book and movie) has inspired many people on many levels. Wow. The accomplishment exceeded the dream!

                  • I meant, “In my life it is the creative process that is most important”…I am not fully awake yet!

                  • Good for you, Andrea! Creativity is an integral part of the human spirit, and those who are more creative are in better touch with their spirit or have found a better way to release their creative energy. You’ll get published, just don’t stop writing!

                    Pi’s story is beautiful, and it has stirred up so much energy because it puts in peril or challenges a vital part of human existence, that is, religious beliefs. And of course, we all fell for the challenge hook, line, and sinker. :-) Mamaji threw down the gauntlet with his assertion that Pi had a story that would make you believe in God. Now, if you already believed in God, you were already biased to believe in the unbelievable internal story about the animals because otherwise you would be betraying your own belief in your God (I think that it was Debbie who revealed that about herself in one of her posts here. She could not let herself think about symbolism because that would have implied that the first story was made up, and this would have threatened her belief in God). On the other hand, if you did not believe in God in the first place, you would be challenged to explain to yourself why after watching a movie that is supposed to make you believe in God, you still didn’t believe in God. To me the most beautiful and ironic part of the story is that Pi never made such a claim himself, and he actually dismissed Mamaji’s claim by saying that Mamaji would make the same claim about a nice meal. So, in Pi’s mind, Mamaji was talking figuratively. But people are always too eager and ready to defend their politics and their religious beliefs. The possibility of being wrong is very threatening to a soul’s integrity. So, give people a prompt, and they’ll come out swinging! ;-)

                    In general, I’m happy with people’s behavior in this blog. I have not read too many personal attacks, and the ones that I have read have not been awful. The part that has not been very pleasing has been to read some posts that take very rigid stances. Even if one believes in God (or if one is an atheist), there is no excuse for behaving or communicating as religious fanatics or zealots. We are not like the Taliban or other intolerant religious fanatics. In the end, each one of us must understand and accept that whatever our beliefs, they are as likely to be true as they are likely to be untrue. I like Pi’s father because he was very tolerant and accepting. He ate meat, but he did not force his family to do the same. He did not believe in God or religion, but he did not force his family to abandon their beliefs. The only thing that he wanted was that Pi used his brain, a very common fatherly expectation.

                    People sometimes (but rarely, thank goodness!) try to scare me that because I am an agnostic, I will go to hell. First, I tell them that for me there is no such thing as God, no afterlife, no Heaven, and no Hell. Then I tell them that if I were to believe in God, my God would be very loving and forgiving, even of those who chose not to believe in her (yes, my God would be female), and she would still welcome me into Heaven. Embarrassed, I would say, “Oops!”, turn red, and I would be pleasantly surprised that she actually existed! ;-) But if there were no life after death, and no God, and no Heaven, I would not be disappointed at all either because I would be no more. :-)

                    • I apologize. It wasn’t Debbie. It was Kirsten 4 days ago.

  22. Carl, good article, Hector as well, we think alike, not that it is a popularity contest though.
    I would never have guessed that “the life of Pi”
    Would have resulted in such a discussion group of Culture, Philosophy, Psychology, Religion. Thank you “screen rant ” for this brief opportunity to exchange thoughts.
    I am a wanna be Writer, my blog is
    And I am a little paranoid about sending my blog address to a large audience, but I guess that is what it is supposed to be all about. My blog objective is to evolve into a small group of writers exchanging thoughts and stories.
    I will be logging Out of “the Life of Pi ” now.
    I have my version of the Story that is slightly different in a way. Perhaps I will put it in
    My blog and send others to screen rant from my blog. However at this point in time I am a little weary of it.

  23. Carl, good article, Hector as well, we think alike, not that it is a popularity contest though.
    I would never have guessed that “the life of Pi”
    Would have resulted in such a discussion group of Culture, Philosophy, Psychology, Religion. Thank you “screen rant ” for this brief opportunity to exchange thoughts.
    I am a wanna be Writer, my blog is
    And I am a little paranoid about sending my blog address to a large audience, but I guess that is what it is supposed to be all about. My blog objective is to evolve into a small group of writers exchanging thoughts and stories.
    I will be logging Out of “the Life of Pi ” now.
    I have my version of the Story that is slightly different in a way. Perhaps I will put it in
    My blog and send others to screen rant from my blog. However at this point in time I am a little weary of it.

  24. “A beautiful Taiwanese Sailor”, not a Japanese Sailor.

  25. Carl, another good response thanks. Hector also. The life of Pi was fun to talk about. I am a wanna be writer that has put a few Words down and Pressed them. Thank you screen rant.

  26. Carl, another good response thanks. Hector also. The life of Pi was fun to talk about.

  27. I am usually against watching a movie before reading its book–but I went ahead and watched Life of Pi before I could get my hands on a copy of the novel. This review and speculation was written at 2:50 a.m., which means that I am not in my best intellectual reasoning, but I am, however, much too inspired to write my thoughts since the movie is still etched into my mind and that numbing feeling of rawness that I felt as the credits rolled in is still evident.

    I have read through every comment posted above and found myself more and more confused as the thoughts and opinions of everyone jumbles together. All interpretations were plausible and I found myself confused because I found myself agreeing to two (actually, several) contradicting interpretations. However, I realized that this, fellow speculators, is an important part of Life of Pi–its ability to have readers and viewers decide what they want to believe.

    But the heart of Life of Pi does not lie in its intellectually-provoking voice. The ending (although mostly seen as controversial) was actually pretty clear. Right before he accounts his tale, he tells the Canadian writer that the story is not intended for Pi to make the writer believe in God–and that the writer himself will believe in what he wants to believe. And so, after telling the two stories–we get to choose.

    Do we prefer the story of a boy with a carnivorous tiger surviving for so long amidst the ocean, despite hunger and animal instincts, despite fear and cluelessness, despite reality? Do we believe in a highly likely story with nothing but faith?

    Or would we prefer the story of a boy who watches a man take another person’s life, eat him, then kill his mother? Would we prefer to know that the boy becomes a murderer by killing this man? Would we believe this story simply because it is highly likely to happen and because it reaches up to our standards of realism?

    I preferred the first one. And I am pretty sure that most do, as well.

    Put simply, I would refer to the quote “The end justifies the means.” In the two stories that Pi tells, the ending stays the same: He lives and survives. We have to possible “means” to reach our “end.” One of them is a story you’ll believe if you have faith, and one of them is a story you’ll believe solely because you refuse to put faith in something unlikely. You either have faith or you don’t.

    You get to choose.


    That is the sole purpose of its ending. Like I have mentioned earlier, I do believe the ending is simple. Well, okay, the ending isn’t simple, but its purpose is.

    Which is why I would like to delve onto the other, engaging parts of this story. I have a lot on my list, but here’s the first one.

    “I prefer the first story, but I find myself believing the second story more.” If you feel like this (which I did, for a few sobering moments), I don’t know if it means we have stronger faith or not. If we have stronger faith, then we would never actually believe the second story. But then again, if we believe the second story yet still prefer the first story, doesn’t that entail that our faith is stronger than our practicality? Well, anyways, I know this is a question and not much of an insight, but I still have that nagging feeling because the clear line between preferring and believing is somehow getting overstepped in my mind.

    Second point. Throughout the movie, I never, not even once, doubted the possibility of this story. Maybe I am much of an idealist or maybe I simply am too naive, but I never found the situation (Pi stranded on a boat with a tiger ACTUALLY SURVIVES) unlikely. I don’t know if it simply because I am an optimist, but the only part I begin questioning the possibility of the first story was when the second story was revealed. I think, then, that this was another good thing about Life of Pi. It might have happened unintentionally, but I’m seeing something here. I never questioned the possibility of the first story until the second story was presented and I was left doubting the first one. This is like a simple test of faith (which is actually an important concept in the story). You have faith at first, and then something makes it waver. But in the end, I still preferred the first story–which means that I had my faith restored.

    On this similar note, ask yourselves–did you actually question the first story at first? Did you actually think to yourself, “This is impossible, this will never happen, he will never survive, I think Richard Parker is going to eat him before they get ashore”? Did you really think of it as impossible from the very start?

    Third point. I’ve realized that no one had considered Pi stressing the importance of saying goodbye. I think this matter is actually important. This is like another thing about Life of Pi. He cried because he wasn’t able to say goodbye to Richard Parker, or his family, and he doesn’t remember ever saying goodbye to Anandi. I’m not sure if I actually have something to say about this, but I know that it is worth mentioning. Pi says that the only thing worse than having to suffer through saying goodbye is not saying goodbye at all–I think this is one, important resolution of the story.

    Fourth point. Symbolism. There were a lot of symbolic interpretations made by my fellow reviewers. I tend not to dwell on the symbolic attributes of a story. I won’t go into detail with these, seeing as a lot of people have already taken the liberty of explaining what they believe in (and partly because it is now exactly 4:00 a.m., and I’ve been typing this review for an hour already). A lot of them are really good. However, I realized that believing on the symbols could indirectly mean believing in the second story.

    • Wow, Kirsten! Many good thoughts. The tragic human story and Pi imagining the animal story would be logical to me if the boat had not been loaded with food at the time of the supposed murder and cannibalism. That one fact keeps nagging at me.

      I loved this movie and have enjoyed reading all the comments.

    • Good points Kristen. Thank you! I agree with you that Pi was trying to make an important point about not saying goodbye. It might be that as human beings, we have a need for closure and conclusion that it is not fulfilled if we do not have an opportunity of to say goodbye.

      On some of the other points you made, I would like to offer that during the first part of the movie, we are presented with alternative views of religion: from the father’s point of view, from the mother’s point of view, and from Pi’s personal experience. I was delighted to see that Pi did not see any problem in following all religions he came across because each religion enhanced his appreciation of God. So much so, that after his father finishes his speech about choosing a path to find his way, Pi is still unconvinced and asks to be baptized. I would like to think that symbolism, analogies, and metaphors are invaluable in helping us to understand and appreciate reality or to appreciate God if you are a believer (did Christ not choose to speak in parables?) Besides, symbols, analogies, and metaphors are an integral part of culture, so we cannot just dismiss them. Is it relevant to dismiss the value of children’s stories such as Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer or Little Red Riding Hood or Cinderella because “they couldn’t possibly be true”? Or should we elevate them and believe that they speak “the truth” and as such should help us believe in God? Or should we appreciate them for the value they bring as symbols to teach our children about our values and about our culture as well as for their value to entertain our children and to give them hope and joy? Life of Pi should be afforded the same respect.

      It is important and meaningful that Pi did not pose his question as one of faith. He did not ask the writer what story he believed. He asked what story the writer preferred. If most of us (those who believe in God and also those of us who do not) prefer the story with the animals, the interesting question is, “Why?” I am an agnostic, and I prefer the story with the animals (which tends to contradict some of the opinions voiced in this website that people without faith would prefer the “more realistic” story, whereas people of faith would prefer the “fantastic” story). In the movie, when Pi asked the writer why he preferred the story with the animals, the writer did not say, “Because it makes me believe in God”. The writer said, “Because it’s the better story”. By the same token, we know for a fact that the Japanese investigators did not believe the story with the animals. They themselves told Pi as much. Yet in the end they chose it as the better story, and it ended up in their official report. The question for us then becomes, “Why is it the better story?” Fortunately, there is no collective answer to this question. This question can only be answered by each one of us in the deepest recesses of our own hearts, and there are as many good and valid answers as there are people who watched the movie (and/or read the book) and who appreciate this beautiful story.

  28. The biggest argument in favor of the human-companion version of the story is the fact that Richard Parker does not appear until the hyena kills the orangutan and THEN threatens Pi. Until that point Richard has been hidden under the tarp. If the tiger symbolizes Pi’s savagery and killer instinct, it makes sense that it would suddenly appear in that moment of revenge and self-preservation. Food for thought.

    • Good points Tom. Thank you! I feel the same way that you do about Richard Parker. Richard Parker represents the inner most part of Pi’s self that is composed of his worst weaknesses, irrationality, and his fiercest instinct to survive.

  29. are you kidding me author of this post? really? this is not a controversial ending whatsoever. right after the man says he prefers the story with animals pi says “thankyou” for believing him. its not meant to be a plot twist at all.

    • Excuse me! “Are you talking to me?” “Are you talking to me?” ;-) Is this the deepest kind of analysis that you are capable of? :-) I would much prefer if you added something of value. Is there anything that you can say that can enrich this conversation? Once again, it is not a question of believing. It is a question of preference and freedom of choice. Pi did not say, “Thank you for believing me”. He said simply, “Thank you”. Both stories are Pi’s, but he prefers the one with the animals. How do you know that Pi did not mean, “Thank you for agreeing with me that the story with the animals is the better story because it does not make think about my mother being murdered”? Or how do you know that Pi did not mean, “Thank you for agreeing with me that the story with the animals is the better story to make a movie that can make millions of dollars”? And yes, I agree with you. It is not a plot twist at all. It is a matter of interpreting and understanding what is in front of you. It is not a matter of inventing things that are not there. Ask yourself these questions: What did I hear? What did I see? What does it mean? Does it have a universal meaning or a unique meaning for each person?

      Let us remember the exact dialogue, that is, what we actually heard. We can agree on that, can we not? This is what was said,

      Writer: So the stories…
      Writer: both the zebra and the sailor broke their leg.
      Writer: And the hyena killed the zebra and orangutan.
      Writer: So… the hyena is the cook.
      Writer: The sailor is the zebra.
      Writer: Your mother is the orangutan.
      Writer: And you’re… the tiger.

      [My commentary --> Pi could have corrected the writer and told him that he was wrong in his conclusion, but Pi did not. Instead, he said…]

      Pi: Can I ask you something?
      Writer: Of course.
      Pi: I’ve told you two stories about what happened out on the ocean.
      Pi: Neither explains what caused the sinking of the ship…
      Pi: And no one can prove which story is true and which is not.
      Pi: In both stories, the ship sinks…
      Pi: My family dies, and I suffer.
      Writer: True.

      [My commentary --> These are the facts: The ship sank. Pi's family died. Pi suffered. Pi survived. All the rest is narrative: On the boat, did animals killed and ate other animals or did humans murdered and ate other humans? Is it important? What’s the better way of conveying the facts and the deeper meanings that the author wants to convey?]

      Pi: So, which story do you prefer?
      Writer: (thinking) The one with the tiger.
      Writer: That’s the better story.
      Pi: Thank you.
      Pi: And so it goes with God.
      Pi: (subtle smile)
      Writer: (subtle smile)
      Writer: Mamaji was right.
      Writer: It’s an amazing story.
      Writer: Will you really let me write it?
      Pi: Of course. Isn’t that why Mamaji sent you here, after all?
      Pi: My wife is here.
      Pi: Do you want to stay for dinner? She’s an incredible cook.
      Writer: I didn’t know you had a wife.
      Pi: And a cat and two children.
      Writer: So, your story does have a happy ending.
      Pi: Well, that’s up to you.
      Pi: The story is yours now.
      Writer: (reading the official report out loud) Hmm,
      Writer: (reading out loud) “Mr. Patel’s is an astounding story of courage and endurance…
      Writer: (reading out loud) “unparalleled in the history of shipwrecks.
      Writer: (reading out loud) “Very few castaways can claim to have survived so long at sea…
      Writer: (reading out loud) “and none in the company…
      Writer: (reading out loud) “of an adult Bengal tiger.”

      So, what does it all mean? Does it have a universal meaning? Or does each one of us have to create his or her own interpretation? No one can prove which story is true, but certainly we can make a judgment of which story is more plausible. If you want to deal only in plausibility, we can assign probabilities to each story being true. What would you say is the likelihood that drugged wild animals, caged, tied, or otherwise chained in the hull of the ship (probably below the waterline) be found running around on deck in the middle of a typhoon on the Pacific Ocean? (If you remember, way before we saw any wild animals on deck, the level where Pi’s family quarters were was already flooded, and it was only one or at most two floors below deck). What is the likelihood that drugged wild animals end up in possession of the sole lifeboat aboard the ship? What is the likelihood that the two hungry carnivorous wild animals on board the lifeboat do not promptly eat the lone, weak, not-fully-grown human being?… Have I made my point?

      Life of Pi is not a story about deciding which story is true or most likely to be true. Even if we can conclude beyond a reasonable doubt which story is most likely to be true, we still cannot prove it to be absolutely true (i.e., with 100% certainty) because there is a competing explanation, as incredible as it sounds. As Pi himself said, “no one can prove which story is true and which is not.” But that is not the point of the story. Life of Pi is a story about loss, suffering, survival and redemption, the meaning of life, the meaning of faith (whether your faith is to believe in God or whether your faith is to believe in reason); and above all, Life of Pi is a story about the freedom to choose what set of beliefs is the better story for you as an individual to live your life at peace with yourself: “And so it goes with God”.