When I first saw the trailer to this film I thought it looked like the kind of film that is rarely made. Ang Lee came up as the director, and it appeared to be the ultimate adventure. After seeing the trailer I soon forgot about the film until I decided to go the cinema and it was showing. My expectations were neutral and open to what I might find.
After watching the film for the first time I was amazed at how visually appealing it was and impressed with the quality of the story. On the second time of watching I began to wonder what metaphors were in the film. At first I saw one and shortly after a theme started to emerge. I would say that the metaphorical pattern that runs through the film is about letting go.
These psychological aspects and metaphors of the film are my personal view and are based on my own interpretation of what these metaphors and psychological aspects are and there meaning. They are in no way the right or only interpretation, they are just my view.
This will mean that I will miss out certain parts and only describe what stood out for me and what I felt was significant. There will also be parts that I don’t understand and that will also be a reason as to why it has not been mentioned. This will also mean that it will not be like a story board and that I won’t be describing the whole story.
So with the disclaimer of sorts out of the way, let’s begin.
Finding His Religion
Here we see that Pi Patel is searching for the religion that suits him and one that answers the questions that he has. This ranges from him looking for answers in the Christian teachings, Hinduism teachings and to the Muslim teachings. This culminates with him telling his parents that he wants to be christened.
It is also around this time that his father Santosh (Adil Hussain) shares his opinions on religion to Pi and his brother. And what becomes clear is that his father is against religion. He is more into reason and what can be proven by science. His mother Gita (Tabu) on the other hand is more accepting of Pi’s behaviour.
So here we can see that Pi wants to break away from what he has been told and to find a way of life that fits him. Not one that has simply been handed down from his family. This is an example of Pi looking for new answers so that he can let go of the answers that have been given to him.
While Pi’s father Santosh (Adil Hussain) represented the masculine side his mother represented the feminine side. The masculine is represents: attachment, acquiring and logic for example. The feminine is to do with: letting go, detachment and intuition. Both are of course necessary and needed for a balanced life.
The Music Teacher
Pi is asked to stand in for a music teacher and here he is attracted to one of the dancers. And being the highly curious individual that he is, he follows her with the intention of finding out the meaning of one of the dance moves.
He takes her to the zoo and while they are at the tiger cage he interprets the tiger’s behaviour to mean something. The dancer then explains that what the tiger was doing meant something completely different. We then see Pi opening up to this new way of perceiving the tigers behaviour and letting go of the idea that he has.
The relationship that they have is short lived as Pi has to go with his family to Canada. So he has to let go of this relationship and move on not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally.
Pi is forced to wakes up in the night due to the noise that is coming from outside the ship. He goes outside with a sense of excitement, but this is soon changed to fear and panic. The ship is sinking and his family are trapped on board. Pi has no choice but to get onto a boat and leave the ship.
This is another example of letting go and probably the most painful experience, as he is letting go of his family. Pi (Suraj Sharma) already had to let go of the place that he knew so well and now he has to let go of the people that he knew so well and loved; so now he has lost both. He could have stayed on the boat and waited for his family, but in order to survive he had to let go.
On the Boat
The next challenge for Pi (Suraj Sharma) is not only to survive on a boat and in the middle of nowhere; he also has to handle a Bengal tiger known as Charlie parker. At first Pi doesn’t know what to do and is controlled by the tiger. As time goes by Pi manages to trains the tiger to do as he says. He also here mentions that the tiger keeps him alert and alive.
To me the tiger is a metaphor for what is known as the inner critic and the conscience. I see the tiger as being an externalised version of Pi’s father. For example: He was critical of Pi’s search for the right religion and came down on him strongly for trying to feed the tiger. Discipline and rules were also passed on from his father.
And through these two events and many others Pi had no choice but to internalise these experiences and they become part of what formed his conscious as well his father’s critical voice taking root internally.
In the very beginning his father’s influence was strong, but over time he began to let go of this inner voice. This meant that Pi took control and was no longer being controlled by the father that lived inside. The behaviour of the tiger mirrored this inner transformation and outer peace reflected the inner piece that Pi had.
It wasn’t all negative though, as by having his father’s strong critical voice within, it allowed Pi to have the discipline to survive the whole ordeal.
On The Island
After being at sea for so long Pi and Charlie parker end up on a floating island. At first glance it seems like the perfect island; with its fresh water and peaceful surroundings. The only inhabitants are meerkats.
However Pi soon finds out that even though the island is paradise in the day it becomes the opposite during the night time. And as soon as the night is over they both leave the island.
The letting go that soon happens here does not create any problems for Pi and this is because although pleasure was there so was pain. And pleasure and pain are what the ego mind lives on.
The ego mind can become comfortable with pain if it becomes familiar. This is demonstrated by the frog in the saucepan analogy. Whereas the heat is turned up slowly the frog doesn’t notice it, if it was turned up straight away the frog would jump out.
And as these two sides are experienced so close together and in such extremes it doesn’t allow Pi to get attached and letting go is then a natural occurrence. If he hadn’t of let go, he would have certainly died.
They Arrive In Mexico
The journey comes to an end when they arrive in Mexico. Charlie Parker leaves the boat and enters the jungle. Pi says he was upset as he left so unceremoniously.
As Pi had let go of so much, this was surely the final good bye and the last physical attachment he had to where he had come from.
In the hospital he is interviewed by two Japanese men that work for the shipping company. Pi tells them the story, but they don’t believe it. They want a story that sounds believable. So he has to deny the story he has and make up a new one.
I would say that this is a metaphor for repression. In order to let go we need to face what has happened. If we run away from it and deny it, it will just become repressed. And this means that we hold on and don’t let go.
At the end of the story Pi is with the Writer (Rafe Spall) and talks about one of the lessons of life being to let go. It is here that Pi detaches form the story and gives his meaning on what it was about. When the Writer asks what the meaning of the story is Pi says why does it have to mean anything and that it’s his story now. So at the end he emotionally lets go of the story.
The writer could be a reflection of Pi’s mother that was internalised and become his inner nurturing voice. She listened to Pi and accepted him. This meant he didn’t have to act or pretend around his mother; he could be himself. And the writer allowed Pi express his truth it enabled him to finally let go of the past.
At one level the film is a great adventure story. It can be perceived as being a film of great loss, strength and courage. And while it is all these things, I believe it is a great example of one of the greatest and often the hardest lessons of life - Letting go.
There were situations where letting go was incredibly stressful and painful for Pi. This included leaving India and leaving his family on the ship. If he had stayed on the boat or on the island, Pi would have died and not have made it to Canada. And had Pi stayed in India he may never have learnt the importance of letting go.
This is something that all humans can relate to. Letting go is rarely easy and yet it is part of life. Sometimes it could be letting go of someone or something that cannot be replaced. And at other times it is about letting go of what no longer serves us.
As the ego minds identity is comprised of what is familiar; letting go is the last thing that it wants to do. What is familiar is what is classed as safe to the ego mind, and it would rather die than let go. And letting go is associated as death to the ego mind. So this doesn’t leave much room for change.
This is why awareness is so important. If one is unaware of this dynamic change is unlikely to occur. Through being aware one can often minimise the amount of pain that is experienced.
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Oliver J R Cooper
Oliver JR Cooper
Author of 25 books, Transformational Writer, Teacher & Consultant.
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That which is contained within these articles is based on my own empirical understanding and is true for me at the time they were written. However, as I continue to grow, what I perceive as the truth will inevitably change and as a result of this - parts of these articles may not reflect my current outlook.