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The Life of Pi: A Multi-Faith Exploration

Updated on June 8, 2021
Maria Dorland profile image

MariaInes is a freelancer who writes about social matters from different perspectives.

The Movie Starts...

The life of Pi” main character, Piscine Molitor Patel, starts narrating the movie explaining among several details of his childhood, where his name and the shortened version of it came from. Piscine Molitor a swimming pool in France, which clarity and beauty impressed his uncle Mamaji and the mathematical constant expressed as “Pi” are the two figures behind.

This introduction sets the deeply religious tone of the movie and gives the framework to the rest of the story. First, the film starts linking early events of Pi’s life to display a sense of destiny and highlight the purpose of adversity in life. His uncle, who was born with too much water in the lungs becomes an expert swimmer. He also teaches him how to swim, which ultimately will save Pi from drowning in the Pacific ocean, where he wanders with a tiger for 277 days, after the accident of the ship that was carrying him and his family to Canada.

Second, the parallelism between the transparency of the water displayed by the swimming pool that reportedly changes Mamaji’s life matches with many religious concepts such as clear, cleansed and purified souls, initiation, and changing life experiences. Water is also used as a symbol for baptising, cleansing, life and death among many others.

Third, the mathematical constant “Pi” is, as explained by Pi in the film, an irrational number which by definition never ends and its decimal digits never repeat in a pattern. A number that is also defined as the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. All these figures remind us of the infinite, the endless possibility of keep searching for answers but at the same time completeness. They are all concepts linked intimately to the meaning of religion. The number “Pi” also connects with the rational aspect of Pi’s life that plays an important role in his survival.

The film continues from here to display how the life of Pi develops under several influences such as the three religions named Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam, and also the rationalist atheist approach infused by his father, until the day when his faith and survival skills were tested as a lonely castaway in the Pacific Ocean.


The Book is As Amazing as the Movie...or Even Better.

Christian Chruch
Christian Chruch

Pi and Religion

Pi claims to practice Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam. Hinduism was his mother’s religion and she introduces him to its deities: Vishnu, Krishna, Ganesh and many others. They are reportedly the heroes of Pi’s childhood.

It is not demonstrated in the movie that Pi has the opportunity as an adult to delve deeply into Christianity and Islam, but he receives Jesus Christ as the son of God and believes in the love that is implied by the sacrifice of His death to save humanity from God’s alienation. He also embraces Islam, as the faith shared in the community and its rituals make him feel in unity with other humans and God.

Ganesha - Hindu God
Ganesha - Hindu God

Kruger (2008) affirms that Hinduism could be considered a monotheistic or a pantheistic religion but in either case, God is in control of many other gods or it is manifested as many gods. This feature makes possible for Pi, as a child, to welcome Jesus and Allah as part of his gods. This becomes apparent when the small child thanks Vishnu for introducing him to Jesus Christ.

Pi and Rationality

Pi’s father is part of the new India and believes that rationalism is the way to proceed in life. He advises his son to choose one of the three faiths and argues that believing in too many things is similar to believing in none. His father insists that whatever choice he makes, he must promise to always using his reasoning, to which Pi agrees. However, Pi’s early faith takes him to risk his life in the zoo run by his father. He aims to feed a tiger, named Richard Parker, from his hand, only to be stopped by his family few seconds before the animal reached the gate.

Pi’s father takes the occasion to insist that reason must never be left behind and forces his son to watch how the predator gulled a goat, grabbing it from the same spot where Pi was standing seconds before. This lesson pierces Pi’s heart to the extent that he becomes restless, searching for the meaning of his life and life in general. Only the love for a girl soothed him but circumstances pushed him out of his relationship with her.

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Worth of Religion in Pi's Journey

Pi is constantly speaking to God. He thanks God for the food, he asks for forgiveness when he kills a fish, he demands explanations for his fate, what else God wants from him? He lost everything, still, he surrenders and confesses to God that he is ready to die in thankfulness. Pi acts as if is not alone and has the sense and certainty that his life is under the control of a superior being that gives him hope and satisfaction. Pi interprets the mysterious island as the reassurance of God presence in his journey to meet his destiny and even feels the joy of God when they arrive safely to Mexico.

His belief in God gives to Pi both functional and substantive types of support. Functionally, Pi acts as connected to nature and the everyday, he does not display too much anxiety of feeling cut-off but rather displays an attitude of acting according to the situation where he is part of, not as a victim but as a role player being his faith in God, the compass. He never stops thinking while his strength allowed, but his reasoning does not try to solve the impossible, it is rather used to solve daily obstacles for surviving, such as mastering his relationship with the tiger, fishing, designing a shelter, reading instructions, writing a journal etc. Substantially, Pi believes that his faith is being tested by God and that God helps him to finalize the task.


Pi’s skills were tested in deeper waters than a swimming pool, he completed a journey while not knowing what to expect next, his father’s teachings made him rule over a tiger that was not behind bars, his trust in God made him eat fish even he was a devoted to Hinduism and therefore vegetarian, his relationship with God connected him to his journey with the purpose of surrendering his life to Him but it also gave him strength to survive.

Pi was narrating this story to a Canadian writer. At the end of the movie, he recounts that Japanese officials, who visited him to find out the reason behind the wreckage, obtained two versions of the story. One with the animals as displayed in the movie and another with humans, where he plays the role of the tiger. He did this to make it more credible to the authorities, however, the Canadian author doubts of which one is real and which one is fiction. Pi notices this, and inquires the Canadian writer about what is his conclusion or rather which story he prefers. The Canadian answers cleverly, he prefers the one with the tiger. This answer gives the opportunity to Pi to bring God into perspective from his point of view of religions. He believes that men interpretation of God gives origin to religions regardless of who God is and how He is understood by humans.

Pi and Richard Parker

The political situation in their native country forces Pi’s family to leave India as they planned to start a new life in Canada. They take all the animals from the zoo with the aim to sell them and have some money to start over there. The trip is ill-fated as the ship was stricken by a storm and sunk in the Pacific waters. Only Pi and few animals survived the accident, but after a night and few hours, the animals attacked each other leaving only the tiger as a survivor to make company to Pi’s adventure.

Richard Parker, the tiger is again the symbol that contains the concept of the usefulness of challenges in life. Pi remembers the lesson of his father and knows that the tiger will devour him as soon as an opportunity is given, hence he makes sure of marking clear territories and gives him the purpose defending his life proactively, first try taming the tiger and later establishing a relationship, where caring for Richard Parker’s needs ensured that the animal would see him as an ally and master but not as prey. Pi soon realizes that his relationship with Richard Parker is of vital importance for surviving, at a deeper emotional level, as gives him meaning to be alive.

The travel in a boat exposes Pi and the tiger to beauty and wilderness. They are always surrounded by fish to be eaten and admired. Nonetheless, harsh condition diminishes their health and when surrendered to death, a mysterious island appeared to replenish their forces and help them to finalize their journey. This island was both generous and treacherous, making impossible for Pi to stay there more than one day and one night because they could have died soon there. The journey continued until reaching a Mexican beach where Richard Parker left to carry on without Pi and Pi was helped in a hospital to recover.

Reference List

Kruger J.S, Lubbe GJA, Steyn HC (2008). The human search for meaning, a multireligion introduction to the religions of humankind. Pretoria. Van Schaick Publishers.

The Life of Pi. Dir. Ang Lee. USA. 20th Century Film Corporation and Dune Entertainment III LLC. 2012. [DVD].

Weisstein, Eric W. "Irrational Number." From MathWorld -- A Wolfram Web Resource.


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