The Common Good

'Life of Pi:' A Story to 'Make You Believe in God'

20th Century Fox
All photos: 20th Century Fox

In search of a story that will “make you believe in God?”

It’s a heavy undertaking. Kind of like trying to adapt that story to film, as screenwriter David Magee and director Ang Lee did brilliantly in Life of Pi, which opens nationwide today.

The film, adapted from Yann Martel’s moving book, takes on massive questions — who is God, how do we find God, and why do bad things happen to us — as we follow Pi, a zookeeper’s son shipwrecked on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger.

“I think we’re humble filmmakers — I don’t think we can answer why bad things happen to people,” Magee told Sojourners Tuesday. “But I do think it puts into perspective the fact that within every ordeal there is a lesson.

“This is very much a story about storytelling,” Magee added. “It’s very much a story about how those different narratives help us get through. It can’t promise to answer why we go through the things we do, but it can say what we take away from them.”

Along his journey, Pi’s story moves from one that parallels Biblical Noah — as he attempts to bring along some of the zoo animals on his lifeboat — to one that looks more like Job — as he slowly loses everything, save a tiger, a constant threat to his life. 

“He reaches a point on his journey when he says, essentially, ‘God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ … and gradually he comes to learn that the tiger is the one thing that is keeping him safe on the journey,” Magee said. 

The tiger, which in a bit of levity to the story is named Richard Parker, keeps Pi alert and sane while he struggles to survive. 

One of the more interesting pieces in the book, which translates beautifully onscreen, is the overarching view of God across religious traditions and aspects of faith. 

From Martel’s book: 

Hindus, in their capacity for love, are indeed hairless Christians, just as Muslims, in the way they see God in everything, are bearded Hindus, and Christians, in their devotion to God, are hat wearing Muslims.  

Pi dabbles in each, and sees truth in all. 

“We don’t want to say that you should believe in all things and nothing all at once. All of these narratives, all of these stories that we rely on are grasping toward the same thing,” Magee said. “ … They’re all trying to put some sort of order on the chaos and the despair that we confront in our lives, and if you listen to those stories, you can hear the common theme along the journey.”

Life of Pi explores each of these heavy themes as told through the way a boy interacts with a tiger after he’s lost everything. They’re told through his eyes, as every sense is amplified, and culminates in a beautifully crafted, visually stunning story. 

The film opens everywhere today. Grab your family and watch it this Thanksgiving weekend.

Sandi Villarreal is Web Editor at Sojourners. You can follow her on Twitter @Sandi.

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