‘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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  1. I believe in the tiger story,pi as a boy was in search of religion n god,and was following three religions,curious about god and his creations,after the shipwreck,he was a god for the tiger,looking after the tiger,without realising humans can be gods if they has faith in religions n gods,so as a castaway and without realising himself PI has become a god to the tiger,that’s the reason the tiger was unable to maul him even when the tiger was starving,and when they hit the shores of Mexico ,PI fell on the sands as an ordinary human full of expectations,hoping the tiger will turn back and glance at him as a mark of appreciation for the things he has done to save the tiger during the journey,but the tiger walks past him n stops for a while,and PI’s smiling face comes flooding back to the tiger before it proceed to the jungle,the tiger has taken him to his heart that PI is a god to the tiger,during the adventure together,so it never looked back on the human PI full of expectations waiting for the tiger to turn back ( only humans have the tendency for expetactations,not GOD)

  2. The plot is given away early on when Pi tells the interviewer that he teaches Cabal at the university. You don’t teach a subject you’re not expert in. This is about the creation of religion (Christianity and Islam) by a supposed elite to confuse and control the goyim. I quit watching half way through. Disgusting.

  3. HALIMAH’s view and theory is the best I’ve seen so far,nice one

  4. My personal belief that the two stories are a metaphor for life, in that life happens, good and bad things, we can choose our view of it. We can perceive ourselves as helpless victims of trauma, or victorious survivors of circumstance. And so it goes with GOD, he gives us a choice to choose our perspectives and thus experience pain and torment or experience, joy, faith, and love

  5. My personal belief that the two stories are a metaphor for life, in that life happens, good and bad things, we can choose our view of it. We can perceive ourselves as helpless victims of trauma, or victorious survivors of circumstance. And so it goes with GOD, he gives us a choice to choose our perspectives and thus experience pain and torment or experience, joy, hope, faith, and love.

    • The movie is a metaphor for life to this extent: it presents two explanations for an event: a ridiculously impossible story and gritty realistic story. It then asks three people to choose which to believe (the Canadian writer and the two Japanese insurance adjusters).

      All three choose to believe the beautiful, but absurd, story. All three reject the nasty reality.

      So it is with life; most people choose religion: a beautiful but absurd explanation for the way the universe works. Most people will simply not face up to the nasty reality that when we die, we die — it will all be over and we will not even know that we ever lived.

      Facing reality is the strongest argument for treating each other with kindness and compassion, because once you accept the fact that there is no life after death — no blissful afterlife — you realize that this one life is all that anyone will ever have. That means that taking someone’s life means taking all that that person will ever have. That means that degrading a person’s life in any way, by injuring them or stealing from them or harming them in any other way, degrades the only existence that person will ever know. A religious person can shrug such harms off by telling himself that his victim will go on to enjoy an eternity of bliss, but once you recognize that every religion is absurd and that there is no such blissful eternity, you realize that you MUST treat everyone decently.

      Now, on the face of it, it seems that offering people a comforting (however absurd) fiction is a kindness, and so it would be, except that every religion seems to be encumbered with injunctions to proselytize, to persecute non-believers, and to restrict the freedom of its believers to conduct their lives as they would like. Absent those encumbrances and religion would be harmless to all and beneficial to many, but as it is now, religion is a scourge upon humanity. And this tale tells us that most people would choose that scourge over the ugly, but ultimately less harmful, reality.

      -Richard, His Kanubic Travesty

      • thank you, well said.

      • Sorry man but i totally disagree; if it werent for life after death, for a transcendence of our actions, nothing would stop me from simply making the most from my life regardless of how my doing so affected others. And with scarce resources looking for your own benefit always has negative repercussions on others. Thinking we are all just thrown into existence and that it will all be over when we die wont make people considerate and loving. If there isnt something superior, a moral, a god.. what can move us to act kindly as you say?

        • you know something…I do things or at least I try most of the time that are right and feel that way inside me…call it god or whatever you want to I don t know the for sures but there is a bad feeling that comes along with doing whatever you darn please and good feelings that come with doing right I am certain most if not all people feel this in themselves.. where it comes from ???? but it is there…some ignore it more often than others but I don t only do things because there might be a god watching…that feeling may or may not come from him but it is irrelevant…do good for the sake of doing good….love….

          • Monica, to learn where that good feeling comes from, study anthropology, neuroscience, psychology, evolutionary biology, or a related field.

            There are chemical transmitters in the brain that make us feel good, and evolution has taught those transmitters to fire when we do something that contributes to our genetic survival.

            Doing good for other people enhances the survival potential of our “tribe” and species, and an evolutionarily successful tribe or species enhances the survival potential of its members and their offspring: help someone else, you help your tribe; help your tribe, you help yourself.

            Evolutionarily speaking, of course, it is not really about helping yourself, the individual. It is really about helping ensure the survival of your genetic material.

            • I LOVE Richard Parker…………………..

        • a heart!? Appreciation of life.. regardless of a God. If its only belief in a God that stops you treating others badly thats very sad.

        • thank you, well said.

        • You seem not to have a very high opinion of yourself, Carlos, if you think you will only behave humanely as a means of gaining the approval of some supernatural entity.

          I don’t believe in any such supernatural entity, yet I behave kindly and decently toward others, and contribute generously to charity. And I vote for the party of egalitarianism and social justice even though I earn enough that voting Democrat may reduce my investment income and increase my taxes.

          I really don’t need God or an afterlife to make me act kindly. Whether it is something “superior” or “moral” or just something within myself, I cannot say.


          • What HARM is there in BELIEVING in a “Higher Power” or an Afterlife, of Any kind? :)

            • Well, Angel, in the general sense, believing in one thing that doesn’t exist means you can believe in other things that don’t exist, and can make you refuse to believe in things that DO exist. This is where the sense of animosity between science and religion stems from: science does not claim any proof that God does not exist; science is not hostile to religion in general, it is only only hostile to specific ancient tenets of some religions which can now be shown to be false. But followers of many religions refuse to believe in things that actually do exist; refuse to believe in things that are demonstrably true; thus religion (in many cases) is openly hostile toward science.

              It is science that has given us civilization, beginning the most primitive stone-age technologies of chipping flint tools, that is to say primitive humans learning something about the properties of flint that make it amenable to tool-making; learning to classify different stones; teaching each other how to manipulate this natural object to transform it into a human artifact, a tool. Clearly, the “liberal arts”, literature, debate, philosophy, history, etc., have grown up alongside science, but certainly philosophy has been strongly influenced in its methods by science — examine a proposition, test it, see if it holds up to scrutiny, see if other philosophers give it credence — and forma methodologies have been developed over time in the other arts; even including the fine arts.

              Science has been the essential contributor the advance of civilization; religion, *per se*, has not. Certainly many religions have contributed valuable moral standards, but such moral standards can exist independently of religion. And, of course, many religions, including the Christianity in which I was raised which has done terrible things in the name of “faith”, and Islam as interpreted in more primitive parts of the world, which will stone an innocent to death for simple being the object of a man’s attention, have accepted wicked, massively uncivilized behavior in the name of God.

              IOW, civilization could not exist without science, but it could exist without religion. I imagine that is why religion is hostile to science but science is not hostile toward religion.

              So, the short answer to your question is this: the harm in believing in a higher power or an afterlife is that it reinforces a tendency to believe in things that are not necessarily so, and that once belief without evidence becomes acceptable, any number of other baseless beliefs come to be seen as reasonable. And baseless beliefs can hurt.


              • I feel sorry for you. God is real and one day you will believe.

              • Its too bad that some of our politicians don’t share, with the public, their own REAL belief,s surely some of which are non religious and logical like yours, and, incedentily, mine. LOL, We probably couldn’t get elected dogcatcher with overt beliefs such as these. Too bad.

        • Carlos, here is something I just came across:

          “[Herb Silverman] considered it worth pointing out that the fundamentalist worldview is far more arrogant than any atheist worldview.”

          “Fundamentalist worldview: I know God created the entire universe just for the benefit of humans. He watches me constantly and cares about everything I say and do. I know how He wants me and everyone else to behave and believe. He is perfect and just, which is why we face an eternity of either bliss or torture, depending on whether or not we believe in Him.” (Notice, according to most Christian sects, we don’t have to be “good” during our lives, and we certainly don’t have to be “kind”, if kindness conflicts with his “laws”; we only have to “believe”, and then to “repent” before we die.)

          “Atheist worldview: We’re the product of millions of years of evolution. Most species are extinct, as humans will eventually be. I hope to make a positive difference because it’s the right thing to do, not because of future rewards or punishments in an afterlife. When I don’t know something, I say, ‘I don’t know.'”

          • Oci-Wan Kanubi, if you’re still reading this thread, thank you for the continued discussion. It has been illuminating, to say the least.

            I never read the book and saw the movie when it first came out. Two points that I haven’t seen mentioned:

            1) The floating island may be symbolic of Buddhism. In the long shot where the camera pulled back to show the full length of the island at night, it appeared to be in the shape of a huge Buddha figure floating on the sea. I have my own ideas but will leave public comment on this metaphor to people who know more about Buddhism.

            2) The “preference” of most people for the story with animals describes more than superficial aesthetic appeal. The parable may resonate strongly because it touches deep human emotional needs, or because the alternative story without animals, is so fundamentally revolting. Or perhaps because we are creatures of God, and even through the absurdity of the story a fundamental truth is felt, more than understood.

            FWIW I guess I’d describe myself as a faith-curious atheist. I recognize the evil done in the name of religion but, at least in my part of the world, a lot of good too. I went through a phase when I thought it important to challenge blind declarations of faith. But I’ve outgrown that, and now try to understand what makes a large majority of people throughout the world hold so strongly to beliefs that, to outsiders, can seem so absurd.

            Perhaps – and why the animal story in Pi resonates – evolution has wired humans for belief in religion.

            • Sorry for the typos and general lack of clarity above. That was my first post here and I expected an Edit button.

              Edit: Perhaps evolution has wired humans for faith, and this is why the animal story in Pi resonates so broadly.

      • The most important scene of the film is when he is inside the boat after the Tiger has jumped into the sea and tried to eat him.
        The Tiger has sacrificed his position to stay alive and that gives Pi a rare advantage.
        Pi has two choices here. He can let the Tiger drown and go on to worry about his own survival in the certainty that he will have to do so alone. Else he can save the Tiger knowing he will have to learn to catch fish to stop Parker from killing him.

        He chooses compassion, he chooses the responsibility of burden knowing that doing so will give him some company going forward.
        You could argue that the Tiger represents people and how you should treat them with kindness because you know their actions are out of instinct and not faith.

        The Tiger does not look back at the end because some people cannot accept faith in their hearts but that doesn’t mean we should not show ours. Pi cries because he thought he had changed the Tiger but realizes at the end he had only trained him… forced his will so to speak.
        The Tiger had come to respect him but could never feel compassion for Pi.
        This is in parallel to the thought that you can force religion on to some people and threaten them with eternal damnation but ultimately a person either has faith or they do not.

        I’m under the belief that you should treat people with respect and show them love regardless of whether you fear God’s punishment or think it is the only life they have.
        I am not a religious man but i do believe in God.

        • I believe Richard Parker did love Pi… afterall, was it only his reflection that he saw in Richard Parker’s eyes? I think not… the eyes are the soul to the spirit.

          • Actually, Richard Parker is just a wild animal. That is why he does not look back and why (though the whole thing is fiction) I think the first story is the most real. Pi wants to connect with Richard Parker and if he invented the story he would have invented the connection. But the real Richard Parker does not care.

        • Richard Parker could also BE Pi. He symbolizes his fear, his hope, his starvation – which could explain why he does not glance back at him at the end. Because “Pi” realises his safe, and all his fears are gone, without a turning back.

      • It seems to me that you have missed the message of the story entirely. Of course, the beauty of the story lies in the choice it allows the viewer to make when it has ended, but to me the author makes his own conclusion clear.

        The majority of the movie/book is spent telling the story of Pi; the “beautiful, but absurd story”. There is no indication that he is lying about his story, but when the Japanese insurance adjustors drop in, they reject the story, saying they need something more realistic. Pi retorts “you mean a story without anything you haven’t seen before?” And so it is with life and religion. People constantly reject the beautiful truth for a cold and meaningless “reality” that is compatible with our mortal minds.

        Does anyone remember the scene where Pi’s family is eating dinner together? His father appeals to reason, saying that science has showed us more about how the universe works in a single year than religion has in 1000 years (I’m paraphrasing). His mother says that science can explain how things work “out there”, but not “in here”. Science may be able to answer the question of how, but will NEVER be able to answer the question of why. The movie is a stunning metaphor for our inability to comprehend anything outside the sphere of our personal experience, and our tendency as a society to reject the inconceivable truth in favour of a conceivable lie.

        • Unfortunately the story of Pi and Richard Parker the tiger, sharing a boat together for 2 hundred odd days is a more pleasing tale.It is an amazing relationship they share of survival. However, I can’t help but believe that Richard Parker is Pi, no matter how much I wish they were not. When Pi weeps the last time he see’s Richard Parker walk into the jungle never to be seen again, this is symbolic for Pi letting go of the Tiger he had become to survive. The Tiger that had to kill the hyena (cook) who had in turn killed the orangutan (Pi’s mother). Pi cries because he was finally able to let go of such intense emotional turmoil. Richard Parker not looking back symbolizes the part of Pi he needed to let go of. The part that had to kill in revenge for taking his mother’s life, the part that had to kill to survive.
          As much as the realistic story (the version with people) makes most sense, it is also the the version that is most sad and one I don’t want to believe in.
          We all like the version with the animals better because it is one which makes us more pleasant. “And so it goes with god”. To believe in an unbelievable story is to believe in things that defy reason and possibility.
          Having said all that, the story with the tiger is the better story…. and when I think of this tale, I will remember the relationship between Pi and Richard Parker.

      • Everyone experiences a piece of art from their own perspective. No two individuals can experience anything in existence the same because we all draw our own conclusions based on our own life histories and lessons. To say this story is about science versus religion is a bit too simplistic. I think the writer is trying to open our minds to different possibilities. He didn’t write this to reinforce what we already believe, which is what I see in many of these comments but to put the possibility that what you believe might not be all there is. I think if you read the book and saw the movie and walked away without taking a moment of retrospection to reconsider your beliefs you sold yourself short of the experience. There is room at the table for spirituality and philosophy the same as there is for science and base logic but at the end it our willingness to keep our minds open to new experiences that allows us evolve and live versus survive.

      • Good Points made. Let me repeat that. Good Points made.

  6. thank you HALIMAH ,ur views are the very best in my opinion,it’s full of COMMON SENSES

  7. I was fortunate to read the book before watchng the movie. All 100 chapters of it. I must say it will be my favourite movie for many years 2 cme. I hope (Avatar 2) doesnt change that.

    I knw Ang Lee did the best job possible. My disappointment comes once they leave the carnivorous island. Having read the book i knw those final days were the hardest Pi nd RP faced. When the algea nd the meerkats stock ran out they starved for a few months b4 landing on the beach in Mexico.

    Unfortunately all we see is their malnurished bodies. I think they could have added a good 9 more minutes before actually landing in Mexico. Other than that a great story, marvellous read and an unbelievable movie to have watched

  8. Jacinta’s comments are absolutely WRONG,doesn’t make any SENSE,why don’t you seek advice from TIGER WOODS ( the golfer ) LOL

  9. The part that was a huge revelation to me was the island. He found sanctuary and everything he could ever need on the island, but his overindulgence meant it would literally eat him alive. It seams to be an allegory for God/religion.

    First, simply God gives, and God takes away. Easy.

    Second, and my preferred meaning, is that God/religion may have all the answers you ever seek, and fill you with contentment, but you can’t depend on God/religion alone. Dependence on the spiritual for all sustenance (metaphorical) will leave you isolated, and take you away from the path/journey you need to travel.

    Fantastic movie, loved every minute of it.

    • Very nice insight, ProvokedCashew, that the island might represent Heaven: everything is provided, Pi can live there “forever”, but there is no scope for creativity, initiative, heroism, or any other quality that we like to admire in humans.

      Whether one makes your interpretation, that “you can’t depend on God/religion alone,” or my interpretation, that “you can’t depend on [the possibility of] God/religion AT ALL ” the effect is the same: humans need to strive, to learn, and to create, whether or not they hold religious beliefs about “the meaning” of life.

  10. it does not matter what really happened, it does not matter what your relegion is, what matter is the general truth within the stories and within all religions

  11. HALIMAH’s comments make sense a lot

  12. I believe there is a stronger connection with the raft. Whichever story one favours pi spends much time off the lifeboat. He said that without the raft they would not have survived but he could have meant he would not have survived. The raft represents faith and self pity, the lifeboat is not an easy place to be, the raft was a creation by pi to overcome his sadness as he survived alone. once the raft is blown away by the storm the all is one character scenario emerges. No tiger will come by whistle to a boat…but this represents the fact pi must assemble all strength and overcome all fears in god and of himself in order to make it to the end. without the tiger or his symbolic link pi would not have the power. The tiger walking away is the notion of loss and his link to his parents and his father .
    For me the brilliance is in the detail of how we interact with faith and how each religion uses symbols of faith to achieve a better understanding of life. I do support the notion that pi journeyed alone and the writer used the two stories to bring spiritual atonement to what was simply an epic struggle to overcome solitude and starvation.

  13. I haven’t read the book and only watched the film once. It was fantastic and quite easy to understand, unless i’m just displaying how black and white I am! There seems to be an awful lot of over analysis here.

    At the start, the narrator says he will tell the reader/watcher a story that will make them believe in God. He then tells a horrific tale, which he turns into a fantastical tale to make it more palatable. The story then finishes with the question of which story do you prefer, and almost everyone will always be the fantastical one. That enables people of any religion to accept the absurd stories in all religious texts.

    Please don’t vilify me for my simplistic view.

    Did the author ever provide a detailed explanation?

    • Exactly, Gibraltarian. That is exactly what the movie said: most people (for whom the writer and the two Japanese insurance adjustors are surrogates) will CHOOSE to believe a beautiful fantasy, however absurd, over the brutal reality. It was obvious and pretty dam’ explicit!

      Why should anyone vilify you for recognizing the obvious point of the story?

      • Thanks Oci. Well, this is the internet where anonymous vilification is par for the course.

        An awful lot of people on here are looking for hidden meanings behind each brief scene, whereas not only are the scenes merely one person’s interpretation and imagination, they do not have some kind of profound spiritual revelation. I get the feeling most of posters here would have pored over “I am the walrus” for the same! We know what that really meant – nothing.

        I would be very interested to hear or read the author’s explanation if it exists? It would be interesting to know whether he/she was a believer or not as well. Is he/she saying “You’re all rather silly for believing” or “This is why I believe.” That is the only missing bit for me.

      • Movie did not say that the movie said most people WANT to believe the beautiful fantasy of course most people actually would believe the brutal reality. and so religion remains popular even with logic and science when your love one is die ing you WAnT to believe you will see them again

        • Now you’re picking nits, Charles. OK, strictly speaking, “…the movie [did not say] most people WANT to believe…”; that was, perhaps, a poorly chosen figure of speech on my part. Strictly speaking, the movie showed us that most people (represented by the author and the insurance adjustors) CHOOSE to believe the beautiful fantasy. “Choose” or “want”; is there such a big difference in this context? Really?

          You say “of course most people actually would believe the brutal reality.” I disagree; the evidence is clear if you just look around you: the majority of humans on Earth subscribe to some religion, ergo, the majority choose the beautiful fantasy. But we are not discussing the reality of life on Earth. We are discussing the *movie*, and what *the movie* said. And the movie clearly said that the majority (three out of three) would choose to believe the fantasy over the reality. Pi did not tell the author that his stories would prove the existence of God; Pi told him that his stories would make him (the author) *believe in* God. In other words, given the choice between the two stories, the author would *choose* to accept the fantasy over the reality; he would choose to believe, on the basis of Pi’s stories, an despite the absence of *proof*.


          • Your Kanubic Travesty,

            I’d just like to thank you for your posts. Your replies to posts put into words exactly how I feel about said post; except I’m not quite as eloquent.

            The entire thread was a fun read, but yours were the most enjoyable. Perhaps I’m just looking for positive reinforcement =P


      • Movie did not say that the movie said most people WANT to believe the beautiful fantasy of course most people actually would believe the brutal reality. and so religion remains popular even with logic and science when your love one is die ing you WAnT to believe you will see them again

    • Hmmmm, I think you are right…like in the beginning, young Pi tries out different religions…. with his father warning him that “religion is only darkness not just pretty lights and stories”. I thought his mother was interesting too in that she believed both sides (science and religion) … but you could tell she preferred religion and wanted to pass that on the her boys. I believe the movie said that since she had been rejected by her family for marrying beneath her, her religion represented the family she lost (as Pi too lost his family). I just watched the movie on demand and could read all your posts all day and night! Such thought provoking symbols and
      characters. My brain is spinning…in a both happy/sad kind of way. Maybe that too was a point : )

      • Shelly when you say “you could tell she preferred religion” it looks like you are falling into the trap that so many people fall into: believing that the two belief systems are mutually exclusive. They are not. Science cannot tell us anything except for an approximation of the truth about the way the universe functions; science cannot disprove the existence of god — science doesn’t even attempt to disprove he existence of god.

        If there is a God, and if God created the Universe, he clearly created it to behave according to a system of rules: the law of gravity, the speed of light, the laws of thermodynamics, the laws of probability, and many more. These laws have been discovered and codified by humans. They have been verified by repeated experiment, some experiments have even been expressly designed to DISPROVE these laws, and have failed to do so. There are undoubtedly many more laws of physics that have not yet been discovered. And if there is no god, if the Big Bang was a spontaneous natural phenomenon, those laws of physics still apply, and there are still more laws out there to discover. Whether or not there is a god and/or a heaven, science is a successful way of discovering how the universe works.

        One of the biggest problems in the United States today, although not so much so in the other advanced industrial democracies, is that too many people think it has to be one way or the other; that you have to be religious OR scientific. But science never disproves god. Science disproves many things told in the bible, but the bible is stories that were passed by word of mouth until they were written down by primitive humans, millennia ago. Believing in the literal truth of the bible is just profoundly stupid when there are so many things in the bible that are patently false. If the creationists had the brains to go to a recognized college and study science, they could prove to themselves that the world is more than 6,000 years old, and they would then know that the bible is not literal. But it wouldn’t mean that there is no god or heaven. Common sense says that there is no god or heaven, but science cannot prove it. So science and religion are only in conflict within people who are too stupid to accept the demonstrable, provable truth of the scientific method as a valid way of understanding he working of the universe — a valid way of understanding the working of God’s creation, if you will.


        • Kanubi…
          I saw this movie when it first came out and it is one of the most beautifully harrowing movies ever. The type of movie that “stays” with you for quite a while. I left a few comments last year and I must that your’s are among the best on this thread. While I agree that taking the bible in a literal sense is profoundly stupid, it’s probably best for folks like you and I not to use the word ‘stupid’ as most, if not all believers will take it as an insult. Perhaps “not well informed” enough to the facts. Other than that, I agree with your comment ( being an agnostic ) I do wish that people would think more deeply about these things but I think a lot of folks don’t want their belief systems to be questioned or maybe even shattered. When you are indoctrined at an early age into any religion, it’s not an easy thing to let go of.

        • Kanubi – I actually have always felt that the two belief systems are just 2 different ways of looking at the same thing. We just do not know exactly what that same “thing” is:) And it’s ok to study science and/or go to church. I do feel bad that so many are closed minded to other points of view. I think it stems from fear. I mean…where the heck are we anyway?! I just came home today from the Museum of Natural History…it is just mind blowing all the things that exist in our world…humbling. It is hard to not believe there is a force bigger than ourselves that created/is creating all that we can see here in this world. I struggle between the 2, but feel peace when I realize a decision does not need to be made.- Shelly

        • “Science cannot disprove the existence of God”

          Of course it does! You only need to apply some very basic logic to understand that the very idea of a “creator” is absurd, and even more absurd that he/she/it would have compassion.

          If I was a stone age man, or someone a few hundred years ago, even, I might be inclined to agree with you.

          But science explains things all the time that we’ve traditionally held superstitious beliefs about.

          But atheism is on the increase because more and more people realise the absurdity of religion and any kind of “God” or “gods”.

          You have to have your head very deep in the sand to not get that.

          • No, Jack, it doesn’t. I absolutely agree that the idea of a creator is absurd, but science cannot prove that we are correct. The domain of science is the natural universe. The natural universe began with the big bang, and science cannot address whether there was anything “before” the big bang, or a “cause” of the big bang. Anything “before” the big bang or “outside” the universe is, by definition “supernatural”, and since science is the art and methodology of understanding the NATURAL universe, it is not equipped to study the SUPERnatural. ‘Course, there’s really no practical point in thinking about the supernatural, because, by definition, it cannot be studied.

            Basic logic — that is to say, the rules of formal logic strictly applied — tells us that we can never know what, if anything, existed “before” or exists “beyond” the natural universe, therefore formal logic tells us that we, and our science, are not equipped to disprove the existence of a creator.

            Formal logic cannot prove a negative. I cannot remember which rule of logic it is that tells us that finding white swans in any number, however many, cannot disprove the existence of black swans, but finding even a single black swan immediately proves the existence of black swans. So it is with all the superstitious beliefs which you adduce, which science has disproved: science can disprove countless superstitions, but, no matter how many so-called “supernatural” occurrences science disproves, it can never disprove the POSSIBILITY of the supernatural, because — philosophically, as a thought experiment — there just might be that one supernatural occurrence, waiting right around the corner, that has not yet been discovered, which would actually prove to be truly supernatural. My personal belief is that there is no such thing, but logic, formal logic, must allow the possibility.

            It is not possible for humans to know, experience, or understand anything that exists outside of the natural universe, so, although the idea of a conscious “creator” strikes me as absurd, there is no way to disprove the possibility. On the other hand, to imagine that any such putative creator would have any interest in — to say nothing of “compassion for” — humans strikes me as the height of silliness. While it does not meet the logical standard of “proof”, the amputee problem* pretty well convinces me that prayer does not work.

            In fact, science “proves” very little. Science operates by posing hypotheses, finding evidence to support those hypotheses, and attempting to find evidence to disprove those hypotheses. The more evidence in support of a hypothesis, and the more often well-thought-out experiments that attempt to disprove the hypotheses fail, the stronger the hypothesis is, and the closer to the truth we believe it to be.

            I agree with you: there is no god and no heaven. But you undermine our position when you contradict formal logic and assert that “logic dictates there is no god.” Logic dictates no such thing, and when you use such a false argument you undermine the position of the atheist.

            * The “amputee problem” is this: People get sick, say with cancer, and some people recover. We know, therefore, that is possible to recover from cancer. People lose limbs, but no-one has yet regenerated a whole limb, so we believe that such regeneration is not possible — again, it cannot be PROVEN that it is not possible, because you cannot prove a negative, but as a practical matter, I think we can agree that limbs do not regenerate. Now, the amputee problem is this: if some people claim that God answered their prayer and allowed them to recover from cancer, how can it be that God never answered an amputee’s prayer and regenerated his limb? Is there something fundamentally more righteous about a cancer patient? Is an amputee missing his limb because of his own wickedness or ungodliness? Of course not! People lose limbs arbitrarily, just as people contract cancer, or other diseases and injuries arbitrarily. And people who contract these other diseases and injuries pray, and some of the recover and some do not, but no amputee ever regenerates his limb. And other people who contract those diseases and injuries do not pray, and some recover and some do not. Ergo, it is pretty clear that those other recoveries do not occur as an answer to prayer; they occur because some people recover and some do not. Prayer has no direct influence on recovery or not (I will not dispute that it may have some indirect influence, because there is some evidence that a patient’s state of mind can affect his ability to recover, so BELIEF might sometimes help, even though I am quite convinced that no GOD ever helps.)

            • I’d like to know where you teach? I’ve never heard such brilliant arguments so concisely put for the non-existence of
              God, or at least the absurdity of a fundamentalist belief in

              • No, Pat; I do not teach. I am just a lowly software engineer. But I work in a major medical school in North Carolina, developing software tools for Public Health Science researchers, so I am surrounded by lots of smart people whom I discuss ideas with. And I read a lot, and I think about stuff.

                Thank you for the kind words!


  14. I think HALIMAH’s theory looks sensible and holds truth

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  16. I agree with what President Obama said about the book….”it is a lovely book — an elegant proof of God, and the power of storytelling.” The film is wonderful as well.

    • President Obama is a lawyer. He has been trained to deal with conrete reality and the literal meaning of the printed word. His background does not equip him to interpret literary metaphor; his training and experience is for precisely the opposite.

      Life of Pi is not in any way “an elegant proof of God”, nor does the author claim it to be. The author (through present-day-Pi’s words) tells us the story will “make you believe in God”; he does not say it proves the existence of God. There is a huge difference.

      The author clearly demonstrates that most people (for whom the characters “writer” and “Japanese insurance adjustors” are surrogates) will CHOOSE to believe a beautiful fantasy, however absurd, over the brutal reality. The story “make[s them] believe in [an imaginary] God”, the exact opposite of “proof of God”.

      • Oh yes only if you get a piece of paper stating that you’re authorized to do something can you do something. sarcasm

  17. The story is a testament to the judgement of man. often in life we tend to look on the brighter side of things,creating a different reality or (version) of a story to make ourselves look better and feel better about the actual truth. pi is himself divided into two parts a hopefull honest and peaceful man and a vicious brutal carnivorous tiger. This represents all of man kind. We are all on oneside capable of wonderful things and on the other horrific brutal things. We forgive the actions of our fellow man much more easily if we can ad (he did it to survive). The belief of god is something Pi feels very strongly about his existence and intervention in his story. The story represents man and our own struggle. Some find it more comforting to believe that they are in control of every little thing they do and that contrary to the earlier comment made find it easier to do bad thinking there will be (no consequences for them when they die)……

  18. William Blake wrote ‘ The Songs of Innocence’, and ‘ The Songs of Experience’, with their two companion poems ‘The Lamb’ and ‘The Tyger’. As in ‘Life of Pi, they are opposites, yet both are real aspects of life, and both aspects are part of us, and of that which is beyond us. I think Life of Pi presents these opposites in both their realities. The question is how do we reconcile the two. In the end of the film the boy asks the two insurance adjusters if they want a story with less complexity, one they can undersand. I think that, as in Blake’s poems, both experiences are true, and part of a deeper mystery. The sheer beauty of the film was trancendent.

  19. Pi is the tiger in the fantasy version, because it is the tiger that killed the hyena (the French Cook), and Pi states he killed the cook.

    So the significance and stressed point that Pi makes about the tiger abandoning him without looking back, is to say that the part of him that helped him survive during the ordeal left him on that beach once he was safe. The tiger did not look back to say goodbye (or thank him), and the fact that that hurt him emotionally as he recounted the fact, shows that he once we are completely and profoundly changed by an ordeal, we can’t go back to the person we once were… and when the change happens in us, we don’t even realize the full permanency and ramifications until the change has completely happened and we can see ourselves as the person we were (as if from a new, outside perspective).

  20. Neither believe in God (through a recognition that the Eternal Punisher/Rewarder is watching) nor un-belief in God (and a resulting valuing of this life as the only one any of us will ever have) should be a motivation to live a good and loving life. Neither works for me, anyway. If I did not believe in God, then this life would have no real meaning or value. After all, what is 80 or 90 years of ONE finite life among trillions of people over millions of years? Without God, every individual should — and many, many non-believers DO — live for himself, i.e. for survival, for contentment, satisfaction, pleasure for HIMSELF. Without God, here is absolutely no reason to value human life other your own, except for what that other human life can do to enhance ones own individual pleasure and survival. Here is the key: it is God that gives every human life value. It is not fear of punishment or desire for reward that motivates me to live beyond myself, to live a good life that helps others. It is that recognition that every human life is sacred, that every human soul is eternal, and therefore, has inherent value that must be respected and, ultimately, loved.

    • Jeff, that might make some sense — it certainly seems to, on the face of it — except for the demonstrable fact that a huge preponderance of professed believers “live for [themselves], i.e. for survival, for contentment, satisfaction, pleasure for [THEMSELVES].”

      I will not allow my life to take its value from your imaginary friend.


  21. We all have to face our own Bengal tigers. When we do, we are freed.

  22. Hi! The way I see it both stories are true. They share the basic characteristics, I mean the death of the three other people in the boat with Pi and him being left alone at sea. The story containing the animals is a metaphor of the real original story featuring humans. To my mind, Pi replaced the human beings with animals because they basically behaved as such. Once the rules imposed by society were eliminated and the four of them found themselves adrift at sea, they most primitive survival instincs appeared. Pi creates the tiger because he needs something to give him strength, he puts the strongest part of his personality and his faith in God into this animal.The other animals share characteristics with their corresponding humans: the cook becomes the vicious hiena, the mother is transformed into an orangutan having strong motherly instics and the sailor turns into the zebra, a pretty harmless animal and an easy prey for the hiena. As regards the questions of which story you would prefer, I think that that is a parallelism with the existance of God, whether you are able to believe in God or not, even though his existance can be see or proven really. Well, that’s how I interpreted the movie.

  23. I don’t prefer the second story much!
    If he killed the cook, he deffinately will get arrest.

  24. It is important to note that Richard Parker is the name of a 17 year old that was killed and eaten by 2 men in the late 1800s while they were stranded on a boat for a few weeks. The name of the case is Regina v. Dudley & Stephens

  25. This was a very compelling movie and I have really enjoyed reading a lot of these comments here. I’ve never read the book and I feel its rare that a 2hr film (even if based on a novel) can ignite such a great discussion. It is riddled with symbolism, paradoxes and metaphors that I feel are left open for interpretation. Meaning its not handed to you on a silver platter and there is no right or wrong way to see it. It makes you think. Which is a good thing. You should always get that lump of matter between yours ears active and think for yourself then decide how the story connects with you. I would like to point out that no matter which of the two stories PI tells you CHOOSE to believe, the only FACT and relevant TRUTH is that this is a story. IMHO I felt the island part was symbolic for him being able to survive with just mother nature on the island (the island was shaped like a woman) but without the possibility of connecting with other humans life wasnt worth living. He sais i have to get back to the world. He obviously isnt on another planet but wants to get back to civilization. It took a lot of courage to make that decision and was a testament to his faith in god to guide him. Another part that touched me was when he landed in mexico. God created us in his image right?(the father, the son, the holy spirit = mind, body, spirit). So as creators ourselves, in that moment he was in a sense a god to Richard Parker(this is where the human name had anything to do with the tale for me) by providing for him when otherwise he wouldve died. So symbolically in that part on the beach(put aside the two stories) PI represents god and richard parker represents humans as a 3.14 in that once he didnt need god to survive he didnt look back to acknowledge he even existed. As for the two stories I believe the author/director intended to confuse the crap out of us and make us make the CHOICE for ourselves. I think the author intended the first story (which is what its is all about baby) to be the intended truth and though the second story fits along side the first it is a lie(to me). Biggest clue I got on this was when buddy said bananas dont float in his rational explainable world. Uh wait yeah in mine, THEY DO!!!! Even more so in sea water. So that wrench thrown in the engine was just there to leave us scratching our heads. Which is what i did after watching, I was so disappointed til I really started thinking about it. To me its an obvious cop out to to say he was a child that went through a traumatic experience and the animal story is a coping mechanism. Too easy. And it really makes no rational sense, Im(PI) gonna trick you into believing in god because its the glamorous likable story. Nah the bible and other religious texts (i look at religion much like PI) scare the sh*t out of me. Why would he do that? Especially when he shows he still practices his faith later in life after the experience. Cooking the veggies(Hindu practice?) and saying amen after praying. Biggest moral of the story I took away is we all choose the first because faith is within us all. We live in a universe we have practically no control over. So whether we acknowledge it or not we ALL live with faith. Also i am not some religious fanatic and there was a time not too long ago I didn’t believe in god myslef. Science and rationale were my religion. But the more I study mathematics, science, art, music, and history the stronger I believe. For those who don’t believe in miracles and the supernatural let me close with a study I read by Dr. Ali Binazir which started a Buddhist story of the probability of this precious incarnation. Imagine there was one life preserver thrown somewhere in the ocean, with exactly one turtle in all of these oceans, swimming underwater somewhere. The probability that you came about is the same as that turtle sticking its head out of the water into the middle of that life preserver. On one try. Roughly 1 in 700 trillion. To test this, using his own mathematics he concludes that the chances of your being born is 10 to the 2,685,000th power. With that the chance is basically zero. So by definition if you are reading this you and I and everyone on the beautiful planet called Earth is a miracle(a highly improbable or extraordinary event, development, or accomplishment that brings very welcome consequences). I love you all. Great movie and discussion.

  26. He says it all while the ship is sinking. “Who let the Animals out?”

    The truth is the Human story.

  27. I taught the novel in high school English class and, like many of the moviegoers, some of my students felt personally “ripped-off” by the ending. This is interesting when you consider the whole thing is a work of fiction; there is no “real” Richard Parker or evil ship’s cook or Pi. Having to over-explain the author’s intent with the ending kind of ruins it, but…

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

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

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

  29. (…continuing)

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

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

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

    (more metaphors observed to be continued…)