Because reading "Life of Pi" affected me deeply when I was just getting to know Integral, I approached the movie with longing and dread -- both of which were fulfilled. Where many critics saw a sea adventure with a "tacked on introduction," I saw a magnificent example of integration in the life of a small boy in India -- with a tacked on sea adventure for an ending.
The movie does better justice than I might have expected to the boy's attraction to three religions. It even hints at the attractions of each: Hinduism for its lush sensuality of color, incense and dance; Islam for the physicality of its prayer and daily practice, and Christianity for its love. But what most people see in these scenes is a bland commercial for interfaith tolerance. Whereas I see an integration of beauty, truth, and goodness. In the book, for me, Pi is not just absorbing every belief system he comes in contact with. Fueled by his mystical experiences (not in movie), he is instinctively integrating polarities by ignoring beliefs. Here he is, for example, being attracted to Christianity by the warmth of a missionary priest who takes time to sit with him each day.
The first thing that drew me in was disbelief. What? Humanity sins but it's God's Son who pays the price? ... What a downright weird story. What peculiar psychology.
I asked for another story, one that I might find more satisfying. But Father Martin made me understand that the stories that came before it were simply prologue to the Christians...
That a god should put up with adversity I could understand. The gods of Hinduism face their shares of bullies, kidnappers and usurpers. What is the Ramayana but the account of one long bad day for Rama. Adversity, yes. Treachery, yes. But humiliation? Death? Why would God wish that upon Himself? Why not leave death to the mortals? Why make dirty what is beautiful, spoil what is perfect?
Love. That was Father Martin's answer.
The boy's quest to integrate is immune from both his family's insistence that only science can save modern India, and from the objections of the Hindu, Muslim, and Christian clerics who tell him he must choose among religions. Indeed, the movie drops what for me was the climactic scene of the clerics fighting for Pi's soul. Perhaps the director considered it too incendiary--especially post Benghazi. But it was that scene in the book that fused itself with my personal experience like honey on a host (early Catholic childhood analogy alert) such that I couldn't tell where Pi began and I left off.
I was reading "Life of Pi" in 2004 as I was having my own re-introduction to Christianity from a bishop who seemed to cross boundaries of love and firmness in ways that seemed impossible (as recounted in my book, The Bishop and the Seeker.) And just as I was introduced to Islam by an Imam who crusades for applying reason to the ancient stories of his faith (as this post).
As my husband read that scene of interfaith tug-of-war to me in my hospital room following a surgery, I laughed and cried--clutching a pillow to keep my stitches from popping--with that sense of SOMEBODY UNDERSTANDS WHAT I'M GOING THROUGH.
So I have always wanted to enact that scene, and now that the movie has expurgated it, I plan to produce it at a gathering of friends. We'll discuss the movie Dec 8 at a swank club off Dupont Circle which is co-owned by a friend of mine who teaches mythology at Georgetown University. Contact me if you'd like an invite or a re-enactment at your own gathering.
And please tell us below how Life of Pi affected you.