Hank: I shall tell you a story that will make you believe in God. In 2001, Yann Martel’s phenomenal novel, “Life of Pi,” sold 7 million copies, (almost half as much as “The Celestine Prophecy”!) It was a heart-wrenching animal parable of New Age spirituality, about a young man named Piscine “Pi” Patel who, after enduring an extremely cutesy childhood in an Indian zoo, ends up shipwrecked in the middle of the ocean with a tiger named Richard Parker. Forget about the so-called Scriptures of the past: “Life of Pi” was the true evangelist. All who read the novel fell to their knees in worship. I mean, a tiger called Richard Parker! What more does your stony heart need to be called to faith? Maybe a Gorilla called Magilla who wears suspenders and a derby hat?
But the journey of the soul wasn’t over. See, Martel wrote a couple of novels in the same vein, like “Beatrice and Virgil,” but they failed to sell anywhere near as much as “Life of Pi.” Martel was sad and dejected, just like Job! What was he doing wrong? Was it because Oprah didn’t choose him for her book club? Or did people prefer novels about orangutans and tigers to novels about donkeys and monkeys? The poor millionaire felt like he had been abandoned by his fickle public, left to take solace in his many bags filled with Canadian dollars. Then, HALLELUJAH! Director Ang Lee made a rousing blockbuster version of “Life of Pi” in 2012, and so the book was re-released and sold a zillion more copies, and Martel added NEW bags of Canadian dollars to his collection. MYSTERIOUS WAYS INDEED! If that story doesn’t fill you with faith, it’s because you haven’t seen Canadian dollars. They’re really, really colorful, like Monopoly money, and they make our American dollars look like sad, wilted lettuce.
Beatricia: Oh, Hanky, always so bitter and sarcastic. Is this about the fact that no one will print YOUR heart-wrenching animal parable of New Age spirituality? You have to accept that the world is just not ready for “Monday Mornings with My Reincarnated Reindeer.” Anyway, “Life of Pi” is a tale of the spirit (human and otherwise) that recalls Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” as much as it recalls Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”; William Blake’s “The Tyger” as much as “The Book of Jonah.” Cherry!
Trent: This movie has a tiger fighting to the death with a Hindu kid while storms rage about and stuff. This is, of course, just metabolism for how Gandhi fought with his killer fists of peaceful anger against the roaring, stormy British Empire.
Tracey: As a member of PETASS (and here I have to specify that PETASS, the “People-for-the-Ethical-Treatment-of-Animals Sympathizer Society,” is in no way affiliated, endorsed, or even acknowledged by PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) I resisted “Life of Pi” for a long time because I heard there were a variety of animals in it (orangutans and tigers and zebras oh my) being exploited for human entertainment. Then I was re-assured when I found out most of the animals were just excellent Microsoft Paint creations. Good-bye, MS Paint, (1985-2001).
Cousin Franz: A technically stunning movie from Ang Lee, a director whose flexible brilliance has taken him from wuxia epics to the Wild West to Jane Austenland to 1970s Connecticut. “Life of Pi” puts you there on that rickety boat, lashes you with wind and water, and makes you tremble at the potential irascibility of a giant cat. As an adaptation, it captures the fable-like aspects of Martel’s original, while softening the heavy religious thesis. If only Martel had been more intellectually rigorous! “Life of Pi”’s entirely valid point, as foreshadowed in the prologue (and punched into us in the epilogue) is that Occam’s Razor may seem like a helpful method for seeing life with clarity, but it is often faulty. Case in point: We meet a boy named Pi, and we assume, naturally, that he’s named after the number Pi. Not true. Pi’s father loved pools; named him “Piscine” for the French word for pool; that was too much like “pissing,” so Pi got ahead of his own bad PR, and pretended “Pi” was a mathematical nickname.
In his youth, Pi (played at that point by Suraj Sharma) is set adrift at sea for almost a year with a floating menagerie that includes a tiger named Richard Parker, (again, named so for non-obvious, convoluted reasons.) Pi and Richard Parker face each other down, and the relationship between boy and Bengal tiger that should have been simple, (after all, they’re enemies, fighting for survival with equal zeal) turns out to grow in complications as it unfolds. Getting it so far?
In the conclusion, one final contrivance reminds us that Occam’s Razor only serves us about 70% of the time.The other 30% of the time, things that seem simple and plausible may be false; things that seem complex and unlikely may be the truth. Get it get it get it? Is the (MADE UP) tale of Pi proof of the existence of Martel’s Hindu-Catholic-Buddhist-Muslim All-Purpose God? Perhaps. Those disinclined to agree won’t be swayed that easily, and may point out “Life of Pi”’s parable proves the opposite of what it sets out to prove: sometimes, hard-to-understand, unintuitive scientific truths may lie behind simpler, more appealing religious explanations.
Trent: Huh? So this is NOT about Gandhi? Talk about “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Meaning”!
Grandpa Felicius: I shall tell you a story that will make you believe in God. There I was, December 1974, having dinner with a certain star at Marlowe’s Ribs in Memphis, Tennessee, when this star said he would make me a sandwich that would make me believe in God. And that sandwich began with two slices of toasted bread, freely smothered with peanut butter, a smashed banana, plentiful slices of bacon, and often honey. And it was indeed divine. And that certain star turned out to be Benny “Banana Sandwich” Goodman.
Trent: We believe you, Grandpa! Time to go back into the Grandpa cage!
Blurbarella: “3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510 out of 6 Cherries.”