Every now and then I see a movie that I continue to think about long after the final credits have rolled. Last weekend I saw “The Life of Pi” and it is a movie worth discussing. I never read the novel, and I’m not sure that I will. Most great movies are born from great literature and the Life of Pi is probably a better novel than movie. But it is a beautiful, thought-provoking movie anyway. It has a PG rating, but a word to all the moms of small children, I think I would have put a “13” with the PG. The movie, on the surface, is a survival adventure of a boy named Pi and a tiger that he shares his lifeboat with. The real story, as with most great literature, is the underlying message the author wishes to communicate. That message is what I continue to think about, long after seeing the movie.
The Life of Pi begins with an older man, telling the narrator, “I have a story that will make you believe in God.” Storytelling and belief in God are closely linked in The Life of Pi. Imagination and creative strength are closely linked as well. Pi is the nickname of the main character and that name carries significant meaning. Pi is used in geometry with relation to a circle, a shape with no beginning and no end. Pi is also a number that has no end to its decimal places, an incalculable number. And Pi is a letter of the Greek alphabet, beginning with Alpha and ending with Omega. None of us can remember when our lives began and none of us wants to believe that our lives will end. A central theme of the movie is survival and the reason Pi survives at sea, is because he compromises his religious beliefs and does what is necessary to live. Pi uses his imagination to create a story, a new reality, to help him live with his choice to survive. The Life of Pi is a story that describes the various religions of the world as man’s ability to create stories that help him survive and explain the difficulties of life. In other words, man created God instead of the other way around.
The children that watch this movie will see spectacular sights and 3-D wonders. The movie is exciting, interesting and beautifully filmed. Most will never think about the message the movie is really teaching, but Christians should. That message is what a lot of people today believe as truth. Many people believe it is fine for us to place faith in God, if that makes it easier for us to survive and explain our choices. The author would say that religion makes us better, happier people as long as circumstances don’t become too difficult. Pi’s father is a zookeeper, believing that the animals are happier in the zoo because they are kept safe and fed, as opposed to being free in the wild. One of the important quotations from the book reads, “I know zoos are no longer in people’s good graces. Religion faces the same problem. Certain illusions about freedom plague them both.” Pi believes that the zoo is better for the animals and religion is better for people, because it gives safety and security to those “enclosed” inside. And those outside those secure institutions, struggle to survive and are reduced to lower their morals and standards.
The Life of Pi doesn’t seek to slander the religions of the world, just discredit them as truth. What is the Christian response to those who believe that our faith is merely a coping mechanism?
The great difference between Christianity and other religions is the resurrection. Paul said, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19). Why is our faith more than a coping mechanism? It is because we have an empty tomb, eyewitnesses to that fact and more than 2000 years of people who have lived changed lives because of Jesus.
The movie, The Life of Pi, sends a powerful message about the creative powers of the imagination. Christians need to tell the world why men have the ability to create ideas. We are made in the image of the Creator. Let’s repeat Paul’s words to Timothy, “This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:9-10). Your imagination didn’t create God, it does however reflect the infinite capacities of your Creator. And the purpose of life isn’t about surviving in this world, but living eternally with Jesus. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. Pi is just a symbol for that reality. I hope you will have the chance to share that survival story with someone this week.