Making the Grades
Think of Life of Pi as Bollywood’s version of Tom Hanks’ Cast Away. But in this story, “Wilson” weighs 450 pounds and bites.
As a child, Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma) lives in a zoo. His father (Adil Hussain) runs the facility in Pondicherry, India until political unrest pushes him and his wife (Tabu) to emigrate to Canada with their two sons and crates full of exotic animals. Midway across the ocean, the Japanese cargo ship they are traveling on hits stormy waters and capsizes, drowning everyone but Pi, an injured zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a 450-pound Bengal tiger. They all end up on the same 26-foot lifeboat.
Before the adventure begins, we know Pi survives. He is the one recounting the extraordinary events to a visiting writer (Rafe Spall). What we don’t know is how Pi does it and which, if any of the animals will make it. Chances don’t look good for the zebra. It doesn’t take a degree in animal husbandry to guess the injured animal will be the first course on the boat’s limited menu offerings. The orangutan and hyena go next in a couple of quick and relatively bloodless attacks. Then 16-year-old Pi and the tiger are all that remain.
Acting newcomer Suraj Sharma carries the weight of this movie with a natural aplomb, moving from terrified orphan to the savvy captain of his tiny vessel. For him, it’s more than a physical and emotional transformation; it is the spiritual recognition of God’s hand in his life. How else does he explain 227 days on a floating dinner plate with a hungry omnivore?
Despite the frequent references to religion, the spiritual journey may not occur to audience members, who like Pi’s father, would rather put their confidence in reason and science. In the end, viewers, like the Japanese officials investigating the ship’s sinking, will chose to believe what they want to. But that doesn’t negate the powerful messages this film contains, including the uncertainty of good-byes, a precocious solution to bullying and the positive power of adversity in propelling us forward.
While intense peril, the killing of animals and life-threatening moments for Pi are too scary for young viewers, Ang Lee’s direction of Yann Martel’s 2001 novel make this a remarkable oceanic adventure for most teens and adults. Brilliant visual and 3D effects, seafaring life forms and hunger-induced hallucinations contrast with the ever-present thirst for survival. If the boy’s dire circumstances don’t grab the attention of older audiences, the starving tiger will.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Life of Pi.
Which version of the story do you believe? Why do you think it is the more likely version of Pi’s experience? Pi asks the visiting writer why his story should have to mean anything. Do you think this story is supposed to have meaning? If so, what do you think it is?
Why is Pi drawn to religion? How does he hope to find meaning in life? How does Pi’s girlfriend and the other young dancers use dance to express their love of God? Why does Pi’s father consider religion to be darkness?
What does the Patel’s family experience with the cook on the ship reveal about their standing in society in India? What cultural and societal adjustments do immigrants have to make when they movie to a new country?
What things does Pi’s father teach him about animals? How does that knowledge help him deal with the tiger?