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Life of Pi Full of Wonder, but a Poison Pill

<i>Life of Pi</i> Full of Wonder, but a Poison Pill

DVD Release Date: March 12, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: November 16, 2012
Rating: PG for emotional thematic content throughout, and some scary action sequences and peril
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 127 min.
Director: Ang Lee
Actors: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Rafe Spall, Adil Hussain, Shravanthi Sainath, Gerard Depardieu, Tabu

English theologian Ronald Knox once quipped, "Comparative religion is an admirable recipe for making people comparatively religious." The current spirit of our age is to embrace many faiths as leading to the same god, not a philosophy that works with orthodox Christianity. The Bible practically screams warnings against such thinking, such as in 1 John 42 John 1:7-111 Timothy 42 Corinthians 11:3-4—the list goes on.

Life of Pi, the new film from director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) and based on the bestselling book from Yann Martel, has, at its core, a message that Christians reject. But—can there be a “but” after that?—the filmmaking in Life of Pi is often nothing short of spectacular. It has images of beauty and power that won’t be matched by any other film this year. Visually, it’s marvelous—it literally contains one marvel after another. But sandwiched in between those thrills is a message that’s contrary to the Gospel.

The core story of Life of Pi is told by Piscine Patel, or “Pi” for short, (played by Irrfan Kahn as an adult and by Suraj Sharma as an older teen) at the behest of a character credited only as "the Writer" (Rafe Spall, Anonymous). The Writer, hoping to overcome his atheism, has been directed to visit Pi and hear his tale.

The son of a zookeeper (Adil Hussain), Pi spendshis early life in India, where he becomes a religious pilgrim of sorts. By the time he’s an adolescent, Pi has: embraced Hinduism, claimed to have found Christ, and converted to Islam.

His father is less interested in religion than he is in his ailing livelihood, so when he has a chance to sell the zoo animals, he packs his family, belongings and the animals onto a ship bound for Canada. A violent storm sinks the ship in the Pacific, but not before Pi boards a small lifeboat that he’ll call home for many days.

He's not alone on the boat. Also aboard are an orangutan, a zebra, a hyena and a tiger. Soon there are only two of them left: Pi and the tiger, whom he calls Richard Parker.

The tiger is not tame, so Pi devises a way for he and Richard Parker to uneasily coexist. He rigs a raft to the boat so he can stay connected to the boat and its supplies while maintaining a healthy distance from the tiger.

Life of Pi spends a large chunk of its running time at sea watching Pi and Richard Parker try to survive, and the sights it reveals are full of surprise. From the shipwreck through to the resolution of Pi’s plight, Life of Pi is simply wondrous. It’s one of the most beautiful big-screen movies of recent memory, at turns terrifying (the ship’s sinking is appropriately traumatic), amazing and heart-breaking.

Presented in 3D, Life of Pi soars during the time it spends on the sea (the half hour that precedes the sea portion, and the several minutes that follow it, are comprised mainly of people talking to each other, and in no way demand 3D). Flying fish, soaring whales, visions in the nighttime sky—all look ravishingly beautiful. The film’s sound design is also superb, and its musical score by Mychael Donna is memorable.

As compelling as Life of Pi is visually, its message ultimately boils down to the idea that religions are based on stories, and some stories are preferable to others. Choose the one you like best, and live your life according to what you picked.

That won’t do. When it comes to religious faith, there’s too much at stake to simply punt on the question of why major world religions differ from one another. Life of Pi doesn’t bother to make distinctions between the faiths at the heart of its story, and it suggests that truth boils down to mere subjective preference.

That’s a shame, because Life of Pi is a beautifully-made film full of dazzling imagery. It spectacularly brings to life a modern, widely read story. But in doing so, it distorts, compromises and sells out the greatest story ever told. Although Life of Pi may be faithful to its source material, it’s not faithful to the Christ whom Pi claims to know, or to the authority of the written accounts of Christ's life preserved in Scripture. It’s a film filled with beautiful pictures, but ugly at its heart.


  • Language/Profanity: Pi’s full name is Piscine, pronounced "pissing," which brings much teasing
  • Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: None
  • Sex/Nudity: None; a scene of urination
  • Violence/Crime: A tiger kills a goat off-screen and is seen dragging off its body; a ship goes down in a storm; a hyena kills a zebra and an orangutan; a tiger kills a hyena; vomiting; Pi catches and kills a fish; a tiger attacks a meerkat
  • Religion: Pi proclaims himself a Hindu, a Christian and a Muslim; a mention of "the way of karma, the way of God;" discussion of fate; the writer hopes Pi’s story will help him to believe in God; Pi says he was introduced to God first as a Hindu; an adult tells Pi that religion is darkness; Pi says he “met Christ” in the mountains when he was a young man, and that he couldn’t get Christ out of his head; a priest recites John 3:16; he thanks Vishnu for bringing him to God; Pi says God wasn’t finished with him at that point, and that later "God introduced himself to me again," this time as Allah; Pi’s father commends reason over religion; faith is described as a house with many rooms; Pi believes animals have souls, because he has “seen it in their eyes”; Pi says he spent his teen years “searching for something that might bring meaning back into my life”; a dance instructor tells her students to express their love of God through dance; Pi declares, “God, I give myself to you. I am your vessel; after killing a fish, Pi prays to Vishnu and thanks the god for saving the lives of those on the boat; Pi believes a tiger can be tamed "with God’s will;" Pi cries out, "Praise be to God! I surrender!;" believing death is near, Pi prays, "God, thank you for giving me my life. I am ready not;" Pi says God gave him a sign on his journey; Pi says an evil man brought out the evil within him

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Publication date: November 21, 2012