Reel Lessons: Life of Pi

An adaptation of Yann Martel’s Booker prize-winning novel.

A movie about maths?
No, it’s about a shipwrecked Indian boy who spends 227 days at sea in a lifeboat with a 450-pound Bengal tiger called Richard Parker.

That seems improbable.
There was also an injured Grant’s zebra, an orangutan and a spotted hyena — at least until the latter ate the former.

Is this a cartoon?
No, it’s an allegory. With a lot of CGI.

I see. So what happened to the hyena?
The tiger ate it.

Then they all live happily ever after?
Yes. Richard Parker and Pi, the boy, have a few adventures along the way, including a brief stop at a carnivorous island, but eventually ocean currents wash them ashore in Mexico, emaciated and sunburnt but otherwise alive and well.

Why didn’t he leave the carnivorous tiger on the carnivorous island?
Richard Parker is the last surviving member of Pi’s family, and he is determined to keep the tiger alive. His father owned a zoo in India and they were all en route to Canada to start a new life, which was due to be funded on arrival by the sale of the animals. Then the ship sank during a storm.

Does Pi sell the tiger?
No. Once the lifeboat is beached, the tiger bounds off into the Mexican jungle never to be seen again.

And the message of this allegory is?
It is summed up by Pi when he is confronted by sceptical accident investigators who refuse to believe his fabulous tale. He tells them that truth and reason are handy tools (especially for keeping tigers away), but they have limitations. To sustain our optimism in a world without hope, we tell ourselves whatever stories are needed — whether they are reasonable or not.

Is he talking about sell-side research?
He was talking about religion, but I guess it’s the same point. Without such life-affirming stories, we’d never be crazy enough to take the risks we do — and without irrational risk-taking we’d never have made the voyages of discovery or invested in dotcom companies.

You mean bad research is actually good?
It’s possible that you could be using the story’s message out of context there, but the essential point is the same: the real world is kind of scary and we’re better off not dwelling on uncomfortable truths.

Yes, how else would we have wrapped the planet in fibre-optic cables?
To be fair, inflating stock prices to absurd levels is probably not the best way to pay for infrastructure.

I was being ironic.

What’s any of this got to do with zoo animals?
Without giving too much away, the tiger is a romanticised version of something scary — it’s a soothing story. Or possibly not.

Something scarier than being trapped in a boat with a tiger?
Yes. The tiger is just an animal acting on its instincts, as Pi’s father taught him back at the zoo. But you’ll have to watch the movie to find out more. Or read the novel of the same name, written by Yann Martel and winner of the Booker prize in 2002.

Which is quicker?
The movie.


¬ Haymarket Media Limited. All rights reserved.
Share our publication on social media
Share our publication on social media