‘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.

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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 think pi Is actually richard Parker

  2. Without presuming to add to the many interesting interpretations of this moving movie, it struck me that Richard Parker is a curious name to chose for a Bengal tiger. It was the name of the ringleader of a mutiny in the sailing Ships of the Line of the British Navy, which started on the 12th May 1797 at the Nore and on the Medway. Life was hard, and many of the demands were not unreasonable, but nevertheless Richard Parker and thirty-five others were hanged. I can’t see much symbolic connection but I would be interested to know why the name was chosen.

  3. IMVHO

    The character of Pi does not ask what story is true he asks what story we prefer. Words mean everything and the choice of the word prefer is significant. The subject of preference is rather unique it means that both stories are of equal value and we must pick between them, not that one is fact and the other fiction.

  4. Just finished watching the movie. Truly one that makes us look at the symbolism of spirituality that is through out the movie. I want to read the book now, and watch the movie again. My interpretation after watching it once is:

    The mind created a reality for Pi to help him survive the ordeal of being alone at sea. However this alternative reality is filled with symbolism of God, faith, and mercy.

    Pi~ is God in the animal scenario. He provides for Richard Parker (tiger) …keeps him safe … and is not allowed into the lifeboat until Richard Parker accepts him as the trainer and leader. The symboism of Pi attached to the lifeboat with the tiger in it … symbolizes how God is always with us but he will not come aboard until he is accepted as being in charge of the boat (our life). Pi leads the tiger to get off the island, as overindulgence is a life that can eat the soul. Pi lead the tiger to safety. Pi’s heartbreak is the heartbreak that God faces as we turn away from him over and over once trials are over. Pi cries because once again the relationship is more distant as the Tiger goes about his life now that the problem is solved. The whole movie shows the on and off again relationship between God and man. It shows Gods heartbreak as he watches man inflict violence on man (as in the hyena scene with the oragutang and zebra … his heartbreak with tragedy (the sinking of the ship) … and his heartbreak with man as we turn away from God. It shows how God provides a steadfast love and never gives up (the life boat being attached with Pi in the buoys) God is patient as he waits for us to let him come into our vessel or life. He may rock our boat a bit or life to allow us to realize that he’s in charge and needed … as Pi rocked the boat and created disharmony for the tiger to first come aboard and begin the training.

    Amazing movie the more I think about it the more I realize what an incredible story this is of man and Gods spiritual journey together.

    • Just watched the movie, with kids, all puzzled!. Lots of interesting interpretation here, which I love. I want to add one more. The fact that Pi the boy is able to turn a bad ‘story’ to a very interesting story is introduced by the author in the scene where Pi the boy “reframes” his name, Piscine which had led to him being called Pissing (which is a nasty situation) to PI (as in the Maths Pi). That is the first indication that Pi weaves a fantastic tale to cover up a nasty tale while maintaining his ‘self’, still Piscine, but now Pi.

      Fast forward to the boat scene, the cook kills the Buddhist sailor and eats him plus uses him as bait. He does the same to Pi’s mother. Pi then kills the cook and eats (?) him too to survive. All too ugly to be told. The tooth is Pi’s tooth knocked out by the cook.

      These events are masked by Pi through the animal ‘story’.

      The observation that in the animal story, Pi could have represented God who tames the tiger is very interesting indeed. Not sure if this was a subplot by the author, if so, then he is a brilliant writer!

      Otherwise, Pi may just have been his superego while the tiger is the Id, which once Pi finds land, the Id vanishes, superego need not work overtime to manage Id and ego takes over…

  5. To see God is to have victory over the animal in us,by seeking,creating and enduring, God will reveal Him self to us.

    Happy holidays on your islands.

    To be human is to see God, Your duty is to apply your mind to the will of your heart, God alone can choose to make your heart His home.

    The third and only question, are you human or animal.

  6. I found it interesting that when Pi went to make his own raft, it couldn’t keep him balanced until he “made” balance for it himself. He created balance and was able to survive.

  7. remember…Pi was a Hindu to begin with,(many gods) and searching other faiths for who God really is. but then hearing from the Catholic priest Pi was disturbed over the idea of Jesus being sacrificed on the cross for the sins of man. going forward.. he went on to islam and searched for God there. never giving up his Hinduism really. So in the end when he asked the writer “which story do you prefer” the writer responded with the tiger story…Pi then said ‘so it is with God’. Could he have meant that
    people who are Christian really just ‘choose’ to believe the Jesus story because it’s a nice fantasy which allows them to think they’ll go thru a life of seeking and finding God in all things.. glorious as well as tragic.. but still ending up with a glorious eternal life.
    Pi struggled with finding a faith he could truly believe..and his fantasy story describes how he was left wondering if life is just a series of good times and struggles that just end with out even a ‘good bye’ ..as in his lamenting over the tiger for just leaving without even looking back, or saying goodbye to his mother and father.
    The underlying message in the Life of Pi is truly a Theo-philosophical study for the reader.

  8. I kept saying, “this movie won for best picture?” But 2 minutes after it finished, I understood it! Amazing movie, a must see for everyone! I didn’t get it, except cry a lot and say, “I don’t like this movie, it”s too said.” I wanted to stop watching it. But the ending took my breath away!

  9. I think the island represented cannibalism. It seemed like the perfect answer, but he then realized it was despicable.

  10. I kept saying, “this movie won for best picture?” But 2 minutes after it finished, I understood it! Amazing movie, a must see for everyone! I didn’t get it, except cry a lot and say, “I don’t like this movie, it”s too sad. I wanted to stop watching it. But the ending took my breath away!

  11. I like to think that Pi’s telling of the human story is the “Christian”version. It was too hard for the two men to believe the fanciful, God-filled version, so he had to make the story human (as God did with his son, Jesus) and give the men a story they could actually relate to. His consumption with the story of Christ in the beginning of the story supports this. The story of Jesus made him very sad and confused in the same way the telling of hisnsecond story made him so sad. (I think any Cristian can relate to this emotion when telling the human story of our God) It seems to me the story could take a viewer in many different directions. This is the one that was most relateable for me. Of course, this is also a broad interpretation andim certain the writer intended for us to see many more themes in the characters themselves. This was such a gripping story!

  12. I don’t think either version transpired, rather, I believe that Pi’s imagination and faith in God helped him survive (#1 — “I would not have survived without Richard Parker” because it gave him purpose and focus to forget his own worries and #2 “We would not have survived without the island” which nourished them). I think both Richard Parker and the island were illusions that Pi created to survive based on his faith in God to provide these things. I think he simply made up the other story to appease the Japanese interrogators who could not accept the fact #1 that Pi could have survived alone and #2 that the version with Richard Parker and the island were incomprehensible based on the fact that there was no evidence that the island existed. The viewer/reader needs to believe in the island, like God himself, without proof that it exists.

    • I watched this movie last night by myself…I, like Pi, could not have survived with out Richard Parker, for the same reasons, purpose and focus on something other than my own troubles. After watching the entire movie, hearing both stories, and reading these reviews of the endings, I have not been able to think of any other interpretation than GOD was the entire focus of this story. FAITH … The begining of the story was to make you believe in GOD. I will probably rewatch this movie a couple more times… What is Faith in God if not believing in something you can not put in your hands and touch or control. This movie has been so moving to me I cannot quit thinking about it. I went to bed thinking about it and woke up thinking about it. I think your interpretation of this movie depends on where you are in your life, emotionally and spiritually. It has truley hooked its claws in me… I wont soon forget the effect it has had on me.

  13. There are many religions out there, and they all teach God in his many names and forms.. It’s not about which one is (true) because in the end, they are just “stories” to explain Gods Glory.. It’s about which story makes more ‘sense’ to your individuality.

    “Isn’t telling about something–using words, English or Japanese–Already something of an invention? Isn’t just looking upon this world already something of an invention?” -Pi states in book when talking to agents..

    Basically, whenever you begin to explain things using “words” your already telling a story because words were only created to -describe- things.. Words never come close to the full essence of what they ‘attempt’ to describe..

    There are many religions out there that lead you to God, So why would Pi leave you with only one understanding his story?? Pi tells his story in (two) separate ways so you, the viewer, can express your free will and have an option at how you would like to understand the story! BOTH stories are equally correct, and BOTH stories describe the truths that he wanted to teach to you. You just have to choose between a story of symbolism that allows you to make your own meaning, or the story that allows little to the imagination with hard core facts. Either way, they are both ‘just stories’ in the end.

    The world is “nothing” until you decide to {make} meaning for it.. then you bring “something” to it through your perception of it.. So, Reality (like religion) is only what you make of it.

    Some religions ‘reflect’ reality and some use pure symbolism.. Which one gives (you) a better understanding of God & the Tiger that both dwell within you?

    Much love, life, and light to you all

  14. There are many religions out there, and they all teach God in his many names and forms.. It’s not about which one is (true) because in the end, they are just “stories” to explain Gods Glory.. It’s about which story makes more ‘sense’ to your individuality.

    “Isn’t telling about something–using words, English or Japanese–Already something of an invention? Isn’t just looking upon this world already something of an invention?” -Pi states in book when talking to agents..

    Basically, whenever you begin to explain things using “words” your already telling a story because words were only created to -describe- things.. Words never come close to the full essence of what they ‘attempt’ to describe..

    There are many religions out there that lead you to God, So why would Pi leave you with only one understanding his story?? Pi tells his story in (two) separate ways so you, the viewer, can express your free will and have an option at how you would like to understand the story! BOTH stories are equally correct, and BOTH stories describe the truths that he wanted to teach to you. You just have to choose between a story of symbolism that allows you to make your own meaning, or the story that allows little to the imagination with hard core facts. Either way, they are both ‘just stories’ in the end.

    The world is “nothing” until you decide to (make) meaning for it.. then you bring “something” to it through your perception of it.. So, Reality (like religion) is only what you make of it.

    Some religions ‘reflect’ reality and some use pure symbolism.. Which one gives (you) a better understanding of God & the Tiger that both dwell within you?

    Much love, life, and light to you all

  15. All of these analyses are so very interesting, but I smiled when Pi says the line “…and so it is with God” and had a visceral reaction like I knew what he meant, even though my mind started going in knots of over-analysis later on as I tried to “understand” the movie which kept replaying in my head. So, going with my first instinct:
    Pi helped the Writer believe in God, which he said was the purpose of telling the Writer his story. How did he do this? The Writer freely chose the animal version, with all it’s fantastical and irrational elements, but in doing so, the Writer has chosen to believe in something beautiful, inspiring, life-saving, and inexplicable, much like he would have to do to believe in God. To the Writer, the animal version makes “a better story”, but it still requires his suspension of rational human belief. “And so it is with God.”

    • PS – But which version was the true one (if you must)? I was slightly confused by Pi crying so much when telling the human story (as if he was finally admitting the truth), but I think he was crying because the Japanese investigators preferred a more horrifying yet rational version, and because he was finally talking about his mother and coming to terms with the tragic loss of his family (and he had to make up such a terrible version to appease the investigators). He also cried profusely when the Tiger did not turn around to say goodbye in that version, because he realized he never got to say goodbye to his parents. I do believe the animal version was the truth, as did Pi – why? Because Pi believed in God and his time journeying with the animals taught him many things about survival and belief in a greater power that saved him. This was missing in the made-up “human” version.

  16. There are many religions out there, and they all teach God in his many names and forms.. It’s not about which one is (true) because in the end, they are just “stories” to explain Gods Glory.. It’s about which story makes more ‘sense’ to your individuality.

    “Isn’t telling about something–using words, English or Japanese–Already something of an invention? Isn’t just looking upon this world already something of an invention?” -Pi states in book when talking to agents..

    Basically, whenever you begin to explain things using “words” your already telling a story because words were only created to -describe- things.. Words never come close to the full essence of what they ‘attempt’ to describe..

    There are many religions out there that lead you to God, So why would Pi leave you with only one understanding his story?? Pi tells his story in (two) separate ways so you, the viewer, can express your free will and have an option at how you would like to understand the story! BOTH stories are equally correct, and BOTH stories describe the truths that he wanted to teach to you. You just have to choose between a story of symbolism that allows you to make your own meaning, or the story that allows little to the imagination with hard core facts. Either way, they are both ‘just stories’ in the end.

    The world is “nothing” until you decide to {make} meaning for it.. then you bring “something” to it through your perception of it.. So, Reality (like religion) is only what you make of it.

    Some religions ‘reflect’ reality and some use pure symbolism.. Which one gives (you) a better understanding of God & the Tiger that both dwell within you?

    Much love.

  17. In deciding which version is true, is there any significance on whether bananas do or do not float on water?

    • If you remember, there were floating bananas in both stories

      1: Orange Juice floated to the boat on them
      2: Gita floated to the boat on them

      I personally believe that both are correct as above. I didn’t struggle to make meaning of the movie. Sometimes meanings &/or closure never come.

  18. I think Pi himself symbolises god, and the tiger symbolises humanity. The religons that pi chose all had messengers that visited earth. I think itvwas upposed to be an explaination of why a god might need to step back and not intervene when things are going wrong, and that even though bad things happen which horrify him, he still has love and he still keeps trying. The scene where the tiger goes overboard and pi rescues him could show that a god will save even the worst people. .
    The scene where pi and the tiger are laying on the boat, and pi asks the tiger “what do you see”, then looks over the side of the boat and sees the kaladiscopic images, filled with beauty and terror, i think that shows what a god would see looking down at the earth.
    The island could symbolise the earth.
    The scene where pi thinks the fish he killed is the reincarnate of vishnu, could go towards proving this theory
    as well.

    I think that his notebook, and the “which version would you prefer” question, both relate to the writing of the religous texts, and the use of symbolism within them.

    I am an atheist by the way, but this film did make me think that it would be nice in a way tobelieve that there is a god.
    It was an incredible film, so beautiful and moving, at face value. Nothing even needs to be read into it.

    “let everything happen to you
    Beauty and terror,
    Just keep going,
    No feeling is final”

    • I agree, even on a human level it would also work…. You wud have to have a lot of faith the rescue your mums murderer.

  19. The movie was rather interesting. According to the movie, ignoring the ending of the, it seemed that the director wanted the audience to think that the true story was a boat full of people (cook, sailor, mom, Pi). However, I believe the Animal story is far more interesting. The animals are purely instinctual, and can describe human life and interaction so simply and proficiently. using these animal examples allowed to the story to progress without the complexity that the human figure can add, and truly made this movie, as well as the story, so gratifying to me.

  20. Hello Cantemir. I too was curious about the interesting choice of the name, Richard Parker. I am fortunate to live in the same city as the author Yann Martel and have heard him speak on several occasions, the most recent upon his return from the Academy Awards. I had the chance to chat with him about this name choice and he shared with me that in his nautical research for the book ‘Life of Pi’ the name ‘Richard Parker’ appeared many times. We chatted about the Edgar Alan Poe fictional character, Richard Parker and Yann Martel also referred to the strange coincidence of a very similar, but factual event, involving a Richard Parker, which occurred 50 years after the fictional story. These influenced him to choose this name.
    For the sake of time, rather than paraphrase, I am including direct excepts from 2 interesting blogs that include information on ‘Richard Parker’,

    Blog 1
    Taken from: http://www.oldsaltblog.com (under Search enter: Nautical Coincidences)
    “The case of Richard Parker and the Mignonette does indeed involve coincidence but the story remains compelling because it raises issues of morality that are very tricky to address, even to this day.

    Richard Parker was a 17 year old cabin boy on the English yacht Mignonette in 1884. While in the South Atlantic, the Mignonette sank, leaving Parker and three others in a lifeboat with little food or water. The three ultimately killed and ate the cabin boy. The three were rescued after 24 days by the German sailing barque Montezuma, named fittingly enough after the Aztec king who practiced ritual cannibalism. The case caused a great uproar in Victorian Britain. The men were charged with murder and were found guilty. (The sentences were later reduced to 6 months hard labor.) Most importantly, their trial, R v Dudley and Stephens, established a legal precedent in common law around the world, that necessity is no defence to a charge of murder.

    OK, so what does this have to do with coincidence? The coincidence arises with Edgar Allen Poe’s only full length novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, written in 1838 in which a whaling ship sinks, one of the survivors is named Richard Parker and is eaten by the other survivors. Some claim that Poe’s novel, written fifty years before, foretold of poor Richard Parker’s end. The only problem is, that while both the fiction and the history involved a ship and cannibalism, the rest of the details did not track so closely. Poe’s Parker was a mutineer, not a cabin boy and the events took place on the hull of an overturned ship and not a lifeboat. Poe may have modeled his character on another mutineer named Richard Parker who lead the mutiny at the Noire in 1797 and was subsequently hanged by the Royal Navy.

    In Poe’s novel, the ship’s dog was named Tiger. In 2001, Yann Martel published a novel, Life of Pi. In the novel Martell’s hero, Pi is trapped in a lifeboat with a tiger, named Richard Parker. Martel commented about naming the tiger in the lifeboat, “So many Richard Parkers had to mean something.”

    Blog 2
    Taken from: quigleyscabinet.blogspot.ca (click on Richard Parker under ‘Labels’ )
    “The so-called “custom of the sea” was the understanding that, in dire circumstances, sailors would be forgiven for resorting to survivor cannibalism. There were several true accounts for Edgar Allan Poe to draw on for his fictional novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, first published in magazine form in 1837. His story describes the desperation of three castaways who reach the point of drawing straws to see who would be sacrificed to save the others from starvation. Ship’s mate Richard Parker draws the short straw. Fifty years later, in 1884, fact mirrored fiction. Two survivors of the yacht Mignonette were brought up on charges, and eventually sentenced to death, for killing and cannibalizing their shipmate. The case, Regina v. Dudley and Stephens, was intended to set an example and put an end to this barbarous tradition. The name of the cannibalized shipmate: Richard Parker.”

  21. Great article, Ben! Like all great pieces of film and literature, Life of Pi really does make you think about all of this. I don’t know if I believe in God (self-proclaimed Agnostic right here) but when I read this book and saw the movie, I knew right away which version of Pi’s story I preferred at the end. The one with Richard Parker. What a great way to interpret the many messages of this story, and what beautiful story (and film) it is. Way to go, Ang, for winning Best Director!

  22. Hello Cantemir. I too was curious about the interesting choice of the name, Richard Parker. I am fortunate to live in the same city as the author Yann Martel and have heard him speak on several occasions, the most recent upon his return from the Academy Awards. I had the chance to chat with him about this name choice and he shared with me that in his nautical research for the book ‘Life of Pi’ the name ‘Richard Parker’ appeared many times. We chatted about the Edgar Alan Poe fictional character, Richard Parker and Yann Martel also referred to the strange coincidence of a very similar, but factual event, involving a Richard Parker, which occurred 50 years after the fictional story. These influenced him to choose this name.
    For the sake of time, rather than paraphrase, I am including direct excepts from 2 interesting blogs that include information on ‘Richard Parker’,

    Blog 1
    Taken from: http://www.oldsaltblog.com (under Search enter: Nautical Coincidences)
    “The case of Richard Parker and the Mignonette does indeed involve coincidence but the story remains compelling because it raises issues of morality that are very tricky to address, even to this day.

    Richard Parker was a 17 year old cabin boy on the English yacht Mignonette in 1884. While in the South Atlantic, the Mignonette sank, leaving Parker and three others in a lifeboat with little food or water. The three ultimately killed and ate the cabin boy. The three were rescued after 24 days by the German sailing barque Montezuma, named fittingly enough after the Aztec king who practiced ritual cannibalism. The case caused a great uproar in Victorian Britain. The men were charged with murder and were found guilty. (The sentences were later reduced to 6 months hard labor.) Most importantly, their trial, R v Dudley and Stephens, established a legal precedent in common law around the world, that necessity is no defence to a charge of murder.

    OK, so what does this have to do with coincidence? The coincidence arises with Edgar Allen Poe’s only full length novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, written in 1838 in which a whaling ship sinks, one of the survivors is named Richard Parker and is eaten by the other survivors. Some claim that Poe’s novel, written fifty years before, foretold of poor Richard Parker’s end. The only problem is, that while both the fiction and the history involved a ship and cannibalism, the rest of the details did not track so closely. Poe’s Parker was a mutineer, not a cabin boy and the events took place on the hull of an overturned ship and not a lifeboat. Poe may have modeled his character on another mutineer named Richard Parker who lead the mutiny at the Noire in 1797 and was subsequently hanged by the Royal Navy.

    In Poe’s novel, the ship’s dog was named Tiger. In 2001, Yann Martel published a novel, Life of Pi. In the novel Martell’s hero, Pi is trapped in a lifeboat with a tiger, named Richard Parker. Martel commented about naming the tiger in the lifeboat, “So many Richard Parkers had to mean something.”

    Blog 2
    Taken from: quigleyscabinet.blogspot.ca (click on Richard Parker under ‘Labels’ )
    “The so-called “custom of the sea” was the understanding that, in dire circumstances, sailors would be forgiven for resorting to survivor cannibalism. There were several true accounts for Edgar Allan Poe to draw on for his fictional novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, first published in magazine form in 1837. His story describes the desperation of three castaways who reach the point of drawing straws to see who would be sacrificed to save the others from starvation. Ship’s mate Richard Parker draws the short straw. Fifty years later, in 1884, fact mirrored fiction. Two survivors of the yacht Mignonette were brought up on charges, and eventually sentenced to death, for killing and cannibalizing their shipmate. The case, Regina v. Dudley and Stephens, was intended to set an example and put an end to this barbarous tradition. The name of the cannibalized shipmate: Richard Parker.”

  23. Interesting analysis by those who have commented. There are several points that were made that I hadn’t considered, so this was most enjoyable.

    I have to confess taking the view that perhaps both stories were simultaneously true; one literallly, the other metaphorically. I don’t feel that it’s necessary to choose one or the other; I choose both instead.

  24. After my near death experience after a car accident I felt deeply for this story. The entire time I felt as though all of the story was really told to try to tell us that whether we believe the people story or the animal story it really didn’t matter because God is within and above all His
    creations. Nothing exists but Him. Religions are just stories but even they are gods stories. It just doesn’t matter. Religions give us the story of life with all its sadness and happiness and paradoxes. But the understanding that God is there no matter how distant we feel from Him sometimes. We all have our animal natures and our godly nature our souls and the ability to transcend our animal instincts..so even if pi was an animal by killing the chef he chooses to let his animal nature go and become human again by chowing to let his godly side survive and marry and have a family. That is Gods plan for us here on earth. Its the only way to survive and thrive no matter how difficult it is at times.however the world also needs us to use our animal natures when we need to destroy evil. No matter what you believe when confronted with true evil and darkness we must partner up with God who will help us survive our fight with it….hence the island …..which in the profile of a person….(at night) was as though it was God protecting them …until they were able to return to life again..
    It was just so profound ..I had a journey after my NDE which continues today. It has led me to a deeper understanding of God …one which is part of a children’s book that I just wrote. It will be on Amazon.com soon.
    .

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  25. pi had seen something in the tigers eyes. pi’s father would have none of that, the same as the japanese would have none of that first story. why argue ? give them silence or another story.

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  26. You forgot to piont out that part were the novelist reads the report and it says he survived with a Bengal tiger. It was either those two stories are switched, the human story he told them first then, because it was so gruesome and they couldn’t put that in the newspaper, so they asked him to say the same story but with animals, saying animal’s lives are less important than humans. The other story was that the animal story did happen, but after they heard the other story, they decided to put the original story.

  27. Apart from substantial faults, failures and incongruities that mar the first and last parts of The Life of Pi, the central section is extravagantly beautiful, superbly realized and possessed of a depth that gives it a mythological stature. If one goes beyond the outward circumstances, it is evident that, if seen on an internal and psychological level, we are adrift on a sea of life contained in a circumscribed self analogous to the boat in which exists varied aspects of oneself which one can dimly recognize — the imitative self in the chimp, but mostly the dangerous, aggressive self that can be embodied in the tiger. Call it one’s ego or one’s self-hatred (they are different manifestations of the same thing), it is a formidable foe that must be conquered, tamed, else it will consume one.

    Pi’s relationship to this once formidable enemy, now reduced by starvation to weakness, is one in which he feels the love one bears a friend. But egoism, howsoever reduced, is incapable of relationship, since it’s evident focus is to have its way, irrespective of relationship. So off it goes into the jungle, with not even a glance back at Pi, thereafter to vanish, perhaps even perish out of sight. Pi laments the painful truncation of this, and the grief he feels does him honor.

    The battle between Pi and the tiger has sufficiently lapsed or diminished when Pi finds himself arriving at an island of plentitude on which he first feasts, but which he later finds is carnivorous (which is the dark side of its pleasures). Here the island is analogous to islands of power, wealth, and fame, that open with acres of refreshment, but which in the end totally consume the individual. Pi’s recognition of this causes him to flee (reminiscent of certain individuals who have fled fame, leaving, as did the biblical figure, leaving his jacket in the hands of the harlot).

    It is important to Pi’s development that when fleeing from the island, he whistles and waits for the tiger, revealing that one – after battling one’s defects, such as ego or other conscribing habits – can find that what was formerly an enemy can become a friend, what was a gross hindrance becomes a help, if only in that it helped form a central characteristic of elevated character: compassion.

    The film devolves from this point onward, when to the older Pi’s grief the listening reporter replies in a tone so superficial, so untouched, as to sound like a first reading of lines by an untalented actor. Thereafter the film self-destructs but that does not matter — the central 70 minutes are a masterpiece, stunning in its veracity, visuals and buried poetry.

    • Beautiful interpretation . I agree to certain explanations that you have pointed out .

  28. It’s weird that no has thought of another possibility. When the animals were each being killed, Pi (and I) was terrified and sad, practically in tears. Maybe just recalling the story with the animals was terrible for him, since it was so scarring to watch innocent animals being killed. He also knew one of them very well (Orange Juice[in the book he had a bond with her as a child]) so it may have been painful to watch her die when she stood up to the hyena that was killing the zebra. I personally felt very very sad when watching/reading the Zebra’s death and Orange Juice’s death. It isn’t that he was substituting the animals for humans to shield the truth from himself. He gave the japanese men another story with humans, but he had felt actual emotions of how the animals died.

    Not sure is this makes any sense…but it feels good to get my opinion out there.

  29. I also think there is more cross parallels between the two stories then just the zebra, the tiger, the hyena and the orangutan. The island itself seems to be another way of viewing the life-raft, during the day it was a haven, keeping him safe – and at night (during storms particularly) it became a death trap full of sea water that could kill him. Pi himself as the boy could also be viewed as God if you view tiger as Pi… keeping the tiger safe, never very fair from the life raft, Pi (as God) could be seen as providing hope & sustenance for the Tiger etc. Also you never see the Tiger leap out until the Hyena kills the Orangutan… so the tiger wasn’t Pi as a whole, it was a representation of the determination and will of Pi etc… Very interesting movie.