‘Life of Pi’ Ending Explained

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

Life of Pi Ending Explained Life of Pi Ending Explained

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

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

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

Life of Pi Shipwreck Life of Pi Ending Explained

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

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

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

Life of Pi Richard Parker Life of Pi Ending Explained

The Animal Story

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

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

Life of Pi Suraj Sharma Boat Life of Pi Ending Explained

The Human Story

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

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

Life of Pi Whale Life of Pi Ending Explained

The Ending Explained

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

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

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

Life of Pi Island Life of Pi Ending Explained

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

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

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

Life of Pi Suraj Sharma Life of Pi Ending Explained

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

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

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

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

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

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2,794 Comments - Comments are closed.

  1. The movie is about faith and belief. As it is with God, you can choose to believe in God or not. You can also choose to believe in a boy surviving in a lifeboat with a tiger, or not.

  2. This movie was really well made, i found it highly enjoyable. What really reinforced my respect of the film was the profound and very in depth exploration of faith and (as stated in the explanation) various theological elements. I’m a Hindu and although i won’t go as far as saying (just for the sake of impressing) that every religion is perfect, i do believe that each one does have aspects that can give meaning and something to have faith in to anyone person’s life.

  3. Rarely is such a beautiful story told. It allows us to question everything and to go with what our hearts tell us is the “truth”. I, personally, choose to believe in the power of spiritual magic. I got the impression that much of “Pi’s” experience was a result of hallucination brought on by extreme physical and psychological circumstance. But nonetheless, he found his own answer of God in the experience. And he gives us much food for thought in the telling of it. It was a novel, yes. A novel written to present us with the challenge of making our own choices. And isn’t that what it’s all about anyway? Who and what God is to each of us, individually?

  4. So me and my loving wife finally seen this great and wonderful movie and at the end we have two different opinions I said the whole adventure with the tiger was real and she thinks not so what is it does anyone have a 100% percent fact I’ll appreciate it.

  5. Man invented god to make sense of our existence and science can only explain so much. We need faith to make sense of the rest. I believe the 2nd darker story. A carnivorous island? Ridiculous.

  6. This movie was really well made, i found it highly enjoyable. What really reinforced my respect of the film was the profound and very in depth exploration of faith and (as stated in the explanation) various theological elements. I’m a Hindu and although i won’t go as far as saying (just for the sake of impressing) that every religion is perfect, i do believe that each one does have aspects that can give meaning and something to have faith in to anyone persons life.

  7. This movie touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes. It’s one of the few movies that can do this to me. I loved it – and the meaning is one of survival against all odds with a faith in a Supreme Being. That’s my take on it. As good as Argo is… I would have had a tough time not giving Life of Pi the best movie of the year award.

  8. I can only interpret the Life of Pi message one way. “Which story do you prefer?”, as a question, is really an answer to the story of human existence. The human mind yearns for explanation, and in its absence, stories are created to fill the void. For most, god in some form, is the the story that calms fears, gives quarter to the unexplainable, and most of all brings order and purpose to our lives. We all choose the particular story that works for us, thus the multiple religions. The sad part…we have been killing each other over the differences in our stories forever. That’s why we all prefer to hear Pi’s animal story, it’s the better story.

    • I think this is a perfect summary of the theological/human issues that are provoked by this film.

  9. Just saw the second half of this movie over the weekend on HBO free trial on our Dish TV.. Basically from the storm and boat sinking to the end. Not knowing anything about the movie I was entirely captivated and will have to rent it out soon to see the whole thing. Was interesting to read all the opions It was strange in a way to come upon this movie as I am in a period of questioning my own beliefs.

    Anyway came to this blog as I googled a question asking about whether this movie is about “God, religioin, Bible(?).” Guess it is so.

    What maybe was most important to me was that Pi leaves everything a mystery. His parting question to the writer was “What story did he like best?” He then offered kind hospitality to the writer asking him to partake of dinner with his family. This showing of his warmth and human kindness to a stranger was an indication that Pi indeed did survive his ordeal.

  10. Great Film Making! Absolute thought provoking brilliance! Great story, great page to screen… What can be a more profound backdrop than cannibalism at sea, rationalization to survive and the frail human condition…?

    • But explain the water raft- was that fake? Or did he create it to separate from horrible memories on boat

      • Jason: If I remember correctly, Pi explained that at the end with the investigators. It was the Cook’s idea to build the raft for fishing, but I think he and his mom used it more so to get away from the Cook.

        As in the entire movie, it’s all multi-layered and full of imagery and metaphor. Pi initially built the raft to be safe from Richard Parker, which I interpret as his inability to reconcile the brutal part of his own nature — the “evil” he described as being brought out by the Cook, which was his inability to kill.

  11. In my opinion, The Tiger represents Pi’s inner demon, the force with which he has to deal and coexist. He achieves peace for the rest of his life when he finally lets go of his inner fears (demons) after confronting them and surviving.

    • The fact that the demon “did not say goodbye” tells me he realizes that the demon disappeared but since it is part of him he knows that circumstances can cause it to (re)appear. He knows it surfaced under extreme conditions when mother was murdered and his survival was threatened. That tells us those demons are in all of us and unless we are in a war or life threatening situation we are lucky to not have to it appear.

    • If its the tiger thats his inner demon, then why did he say the Tiger is what helped him survive as long as he did?

      • To me, it’s obvious that the human story is the real one. I think the tiger represented Pi’s inner beast and the instinct that is within all of us to survive at all costs. There is some foreshadowing in Pi’s father forcing Pi to watch what a beast the tiger is when he is fed the goat in the beginning of the story. Pi had to harness that beast within himself in order to have any chance of survival in such a hostile environment. He relied on that part of himself until he once again reached civilization and could allow his humanity to regain control. The fact that people choose to believe in the far fetched fantasy over the gruesome and predictable truth proves that they have the capacity for faith, therefor have the capacity to believe in God. Just my take on it.

        • Seth: Your last line — “The fact that people choose to believe in the far fetched fantasy over the gruesome and predictable truth proves that they have the capacity for faith, therefor have the capacity to believe in God” — made me cry.

          Maybe it’s that I am going through my own issues with faith, once again, that I can’t seem to let go of this movie or the book. Your sentence just explained “And so it goes with God.” I could hear the loud “click” in my head. Thank you!

  12. There is only one “real Truth”. That Truth is God himself and the life experiences he gives us.
    But our human nature resists this story. We don’t like it…don’t prefer it…because facing this truth, this Life giver, this Only One and Holy Creator, makes us uncomfortable. We don’t like the reality of the sin ridden body we are trapped in. Coming Face to face with the truth of God forces us to come face to face with ourselves and the sinful selves we are. So we create our own stories. We gravitate to other religions that don’t make us out to be so bad. Or we gravitate to our own sinful selves making ourselves out on our minds to be the main character (not Christ), or the hero and/or eventually…. the victim. That is the story we prefer. But honestly we know the truth. And we don’t want to tell others the “real story.” It’s too painful. We like our crutches…we like the realities we create for ourselves better. So does everyone around us.But the greatest irony of life…. the greatest freedom comes in recognizing the real story. Confessing our sin selves to God and being truly, for real…. forgiven. The weight is lifted and we can carry on being forgiven. The weigh lifted by Christ the one who is the REAL HERO. The price paid for our sin we can carry on and experience life of blessing. The blessing is that we know the real story, we know our capacity for sin, and we have discovered the way to be rescued! It’s God who saves, he uses Jesus because we are not capable of doing what we need to to save ourselves.

  13. I saw this story as deliberately ambiguous, allowing the reader (viewer) the choice of which ending he preferred, or to choose another interpretation altogether. Life is always viewed subjectively, and it’s up to us to decide what it means. I think Pi is as undecided about the meaning as the viewer. When it ended, I commented to my husband, “The meaning is up to us to decide, isn’t it?) When Richard Parker just disappears into the forest, without a look back, it’s his way of saying, “I don’t matter; interpret this for yourself,” I see life like that. The same scene, viewed by two different people, would be described differently, depending upon the past experience of each viewer. We all see life through the prism of our own individual life experiences. So it is in the life of Pi. Thus the Tiger can be viewed as a challenge, a threat, a teacher, or as irrelevant, disappearing into the forest, never seen or thought of again. I loved this unique movie – because the significance of it is up to me – or you.

  14. Pi had to eat people to live 174 days out to sea. He was the tiger the whole time. He made a raft outside of boat because because the zebra(asian sailor) and the hyhena(the cook) were dead. It was a battle within himself to eat there bodies. He never gets in the boat until the storm washes them away. watch the movie again. I like the tiger story better, but watch it thinking this. Two stories in one movie. the tiger didn’t look back because would you.

    • Absolutely. You nailed it. I was surprised noone said that in the whole article and the comments, till I read your comment and it made me smile.

  15. Great Job everyone. WOW, all the thoughts are just awesome. Mohammad + Jacinta you hit the nail on the head.

    Pi is God, spirit. The proof for me is that Pi is infinite, never ending, all “around”, as is God. Pi, in the movie, is aliened with all religions, as is God. (And all the reasons you, Mohammad noted).

    But Pi and Richard Parker are one. We are told that. It is interesting that the author picked Richard Parker, an ordinary name, to call the tiger? It is because the tiger is the human/animal in us all ( or the boy in the movie ). The Bible says man is made in the image of God. That God lives in us all. With Namaste’ we bow to the God within each other. So, Pi is the God within Richard Parker. The story deals with the inner conflicts we face throughout our lives in relation to good/evil, man/spirit, yin/yang, life/death. GREAT movie

  16. When I saw this movie. All I could think about was God creation. How God will provide for us and take care of us. He will never leave. This movie was very deep. May me think about life. There is nothing to hard for God. Powerful movie. Loved it.

  17. The last scene before the credits rolled showed that Richard Parker did indeed say goodbye to Pi,as an animal might. While gazing into the jungle, he visualized Pi smiling while sitting on the boat in the sunshine. Then he walked into the jungle.

  18. I was sure I knew what was meant by the story right away, and it seemed so clear but having just watched it a few hours ago I will think about it and consider other ideas. One of the most important points that stuck with me was when Pi said his story would make the writer believe in God. When he is finished telling both stories he asks “which story do you prefer”? The writer says the tiger story and Pi says “and so it goes with God”

    If believing in God makes you feel better about this life, that for some is full of suffering or sadness, is what you prefer, then go ahead. It doesnt matter which belief you claim. Its a good story to think that there is an invisible being who loves you no matter what and protects you from harm, and if helps you get through life it cant hurt.

    I think some people need to believe the tiger story. Even though it was told to replace the more ugly reality that occured on the lifeboat. Just as believing in some God makes you feel less alone and temporary.

    The story did make the writer beleve in, or at least see the way Pi believes in God. Because its a better story than the real one.

    Pi is the tiger as the writer figured out himself.

  19. It isn’t really a matter of which story that people prefer. It is a fact that we prefer stories, and that they can protect us from horrors that we may experience in life. So, for me, “The Life of Pi” is like a quantum superposition. Both stories exist simultaneously, and the act of observation collapses the state momentarily into a single state.

  20. What I prefer, and what is real, sometimes have nothing to do with each other. The only character that made any sense was the father, who argued for rational thought.

    The story was plagued with unsophisticated god talk.

  21. There is a kind of art called reflection. You believe what is inside of you at the first place. Just like the statue that shows what kind of girl you really like deep inside of your heart. We should start to learn this kind of art because the form of art now have movies, video games etc. It make no sense to say which is correct, if you have an answer, this story already reflects you. Cuz there should be even more than one thousand answers among one thousand people. It is a way you know yourself.

  22. I think that both stories are just one, how can the depredator, the weak, love and his son, the courage survive in one boat? The characthers are a secondary issue, the roles are the main point in this story. And the courage is the only survivor, but it dissapears when the risk has gone. And God is up there, watching the story repeated by us in our daily lives….

  23. I haven’t read the book (yet) but after watching the movie, it really helped me understand why some people choose to believe in something in such an irrational way. Or simply put, why some people have faith.

    Obviously this is only my interpretation, but it’s the only thing that makes sense to me. The human story was what really happened, but Pi was so traumatized by what happened that he made up parts of the animal story and hallucinated others. There is NO way that the tranquilized, locked-up animals could have gotten from the bottom of the boat out to the top in the mere 90 seconds that the ship started sinking in. It’s just not possible. So what the ending made me see is that people choose to believe in these religious texts and oversee the fallacies contained within them because it makes them feel better about their life or situation or what have you. They simply can’t handle what a dark place the world can be at times. It gives people something to be hopeful for, especially when you look at the promises of an afterlife in many religions.

    The tiger was really just the primal beast within Pi that exists within all of us when we’re backed into a corner, fighting for survival. The sailor killed his mother and he became enraged enough to end another human’s life. I believe that he also ate rats (I’m thinking of that scene where the rat crawls onto his head and he throws it to Richard Parker) and possibly even the cook. He was talking about how the cook was evil for eating the sailor and how the sailor brought out that evil(the tiger) in him (although he could have just been talking about being evil for killing).

    Assuming the book takes place in modern times, the floating island couldn’t exist either. We would have found it by now with all the satellites we have up above. Not to mention the overpopulation of mere-cats. They would have stared and died out if there really were that many. Plus the trees that haven’t been found anywhere. Simply put, the animal story could not have happened.

    Again I don’t mean to offend, this is just my personal interpretation.

  24. I’ve read some of the many responses and I agree with many of them. In my mind, I kind of thought that we all would prefer the story of the tiger. Both stories are rather unbelievable no matter which way you look at it. I mean, Who could survive that long, at sea, alone? No way to cook and prepare food? Then again, who could survive in a lifeboat with a tiger that wants to eat them? I have kind of always believed everyone would prefer the story of the tiger because that story as a whole represents, to me, an escape from reality. An escape from all the horrors of all the things we’ve been doing to ourselves. It’s easier to take than the truth.

    As far as representation of characters in the film to our own beliefs, maybe it’s all up to our own interpretation. We believe these characters are people or entities, of own our beliefs, yet we all share the same story. For me growing up with Christianity it’s easier for me to explain like this (Hope I don’t offend anybody, not my intention):

    As Pi states in the film, that he wished he could say to his father what he wanted to say to the tiger, meant that the tiger and his father were one in the same. maybe it’s more of a correlation to the tiger being god and the boy being jesus, the son of god. Jesus wasn’t believed by many and persecuted because of his beliefs throughout his life. These characters could be anybody depending upon which theology you base it on, but it’s still the same story, essentially. Maybe that’s the reason why there are two stories in the film to choose from and then later given to the writer to take and write himself, to further push this point across to the viewers. That it could be changed over and over but it’s still the same base story, so in reality it doesn’t matter which story you believe, as long as you believe. Believe in something rather than nothing. Because in my opinion, it was pi’s belief in something that saved him. I think so anyways.

    Very existential. Incredible.

  25. I think that the tiger had some inner wisdom when parting – that he had to leave behind this deep encounter with a human being in order to return to his true wildness, and hanging on or attempting to say goodbye would have only made it harder, or perhaps, impossible for both of them. Did Pi need to invent Richard Parker’s presence in order to ensure his own survival? I think that maybe he really did envision him on the boat with him. And the tiger represents the gift from God – a companion to make survival possible – the challenges of coping w a wild animal provided a reason to live. Even if Pi was the inner tiger, he also needed to believe that God was with him. Believing that God is real and present made all the difference in Pi’s survival. The real question is – can we invent our physical reality out of necessity and grave fear and danger? Can we manifest a companion that keeps us alive when all else is lost?

  26. Why meerkats? What is the significance of the meerkats? Why not lemurs? Or hyenas. Or zebras? Each would be telling in some way, but meerkats?

  27. Another foreign film with a stale ending….oh wait, they used some CGI…

    This film was not suitable for mainstream movie-goers, but was marketed as such for profits.

  28. There’s one meaning to the story that many viewers missed. Pi’s father was non religious, he was a freethinker. The only contact with religion was through his mother’s faith until he turned 12 and decided to find more about faith on his own. So, already at that young age he was already confronted with two different ways of facing life. In the end, he lets us know that although he knows reason tells him God doesn’t really exist, he decides to believe in him because its easier to face human existence than way. Its very similar to the decision Neo made in The Matrix. Do you want to face reality or do you prefer to keep living a comfortable lie inside the matrix?

  29. Going back to the dialogue about Christ (or any human identified holy connection) and how he is the connection for G-d and man: maybe Richard Parker was that perfect but inconceivable force; and Pi was trying to see the “humanness” in his eyes. RP helped him (not mutually) to get through the test of faith, but walked away at the end because G-d is made for man, not man for g-d. ???