So a boy, a tiger, an orangutan, a hyena, and a zebra all get into a boat...
The reason death sticks so closely to life isn't biological necessity — it's envy. Life is so beautiful that death has fallen in love with it, a jealous, possessive love that grabs at what it can. But life leaps over oblivion lightly, losing only a thing or two of no importance, and gloom is but the passing shadow of a cloud.
—Piscine Molitor Patel
The award-winning Life of Pi (2001) by Yann Martel is about the life and times of Piscine Molitor Patel, better known as Pi (pronounced "pi", as in, 3.14). An Indian teenager, Pi becomes philosophical at a very young age, becoming an adherent of no less than three religions (Islam, Christianity and Hinduism). His parents find his interest in religion odd but accept it nonetheless. They run a large zoo in Pondicherry, until circumstance forces them to move to Winnipeg, Canada.The family sells their animals to a variety of zoos, and gain passage to Canada aboard a cargo ship — the Tsimtsum — that happens to be carrying a number of their own animals. For unknown reasons, the Tsimtsum sinks, leaving Pi bobbing along the Pacific in a lifeboat. Alone.Well, not quite alone.Pi shares his lifeboat with an orangutan, a zebra, a rat, various insects, a hyena, and a 450-pound adult Bengal tiger. Eventually, it becomes just him and the tiger.What follows is an odd and touching story, recounting the trials and tribulations that Pi endures during his 227-day ordeal on the lifeboat.Was adapted into a 3D film directed by Ang Lee and starring newcomer Suraj Sharma as Pi, released on November 2012. The film proved a critical and commercial success, winning four Academy Awards, including Best Director (Steven Spielberg, director of Lincoln, was expected to get the prize).
Accidental Misnaming: Pi is instantly christened "Pissing Patel" by the other children at his school. The teachers try harder, but even they slip into calling him "Pissing" when they're not concentrating. He invents the nickname "Pi" for himself to avoid this.
Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Santosh Patel's lesson on the savagery of animals goes through a thorough list — and ends with guinea pigs. Which are genuinely domesticated.
Mind you, Pi does note that picking up a wild guinea pig would be like "grabbing a knife by the blade".
Artistic License - Biology: One would expect someone as familiar with animals as Pi to know that hyenas are not dogs. His observation could be interpreted as a base description of a hyena's behavior compared to a big cat, however.
The businessmen incorrectly call meerkats rodents (very likely In-Universe, though).
The hybrid vampire squid-anglerfish (though it is a hallucination).
Part of the reason why the Japanese insurance investigators don't believe Pi's story is they find the meerkat island so biologically improbable.
The "moral" doesn't work if you take the situation in the book as a "The Lady Or The Tiger" situation, where the "right" answer depends entirely on what you decide to go with and there is no real "right" or "wrong" answer. Or your answer could be that despite the story "forcing the reader to realize how awful doubt is" and wanting them to pick a side, there really is no way to know which answer is the right one - which is like agnosticism. It's not about doubt or indecisiveness for some, it's deciding that there is no way for you to know which choice is true, and accepting that.
Broken Aesop: Agnostics are asked at the end if they can still hold on to that belief or lack thereof after hearing the story. Except, it's a novel. It's entirely possible to accept that God exists in this fictional world, and not have that affect your actual belief regarding the real world at all.
Dead Guy Junior: It's easy to miss, but Pi's son's name at the end of the movie is Ravi.
Death by Pragmatism: While the ship was sinking, Pi was thrown into a lifeboat by the sailors in hopes that they would be able to save themselves, since the hyena was in the boat, and they threw him in to distract it.
De Terminator: Pi himself. He describes himself as one of those people who never, ever gives up his will to life, and wonders if this is actually a kind of stupidity. But at any rate, keeping up his plan to tame an adult tiger and keep the two of them fed, despite weather, hunger, dehydration, and despair, for 227 days, proves what the narrator says.
Fluffy the Terrible: A hunter intended on naming the tiger cub he had just captured as "Thirsty". A mix-up in a newspaper article announcing the capture ended up giving the largest cat on Earth an equally unthreatening name, that of the hunter (Richard Parker).
Foregone Conclusion: Pi's the one relating the story to the author, so we know that despite it all, he will survive.
Foreshadowing: Pi sees Richard Parker in the water instead of his own reflection, and later on confirms that in the story he told the Japanese investigators, the tiger was supposed to be him.
For the Evulz: When the tiger arrives on the island with meerkats, it kills way more of them than it needs to eat, simply because it's been so long since it killed anything.
Freeze-Frame Bonus: According to the Japanese report in the film, a major storm was not reported in the area of the ship when it sank. Additionally, the report says the ship tank stern first but the movie portrays it bow first. Further driving home the Unreliable Narrator.
For added Irony the report speculates that the ship could have been hit by a mine (which would help explain why the ship sank so fast) but also dismisses such speculation as fanciful.
French Jerk: In the film, the cook, who obstinately refuses to acquiesce to the Pi's mother's request for a vegetarian meal.
Friendly Enemy: Pi initially fears the sharks that keep surrounding his boat, but eventually regards them as grumpy old neighbors who keep visiting but don't want to admit they like him.
Garden of Evil: Pi lands on an "island" floating in the Pacific, consisting of algae and trees in symbiosis which turn out to be carnivorous. The scene where he peels away layers of leaves from what he thinks is a fruit and finds a human tooth in the middle is particularly notable.
Insane Troll Logic: When first introduced to the Christian redemption narrative, this is what Pi thinks of the notion that the son of God should die for humans' misdeeds; he compares it to his father feeding him to the lions to make up for their hypothetical consumption of other animals in their zoo.
Interfaith Smoothie: Pi is a Hindu, a Christian, and a Muslim, and takes advice from clergy in all three faiths.
It Gets Easier: Pi is introduced as devoutly religious, intelligent and a vegetarian. But when he has to survive, he abandons all morals. Killing becomes easier, and soon he is doing things like sucking fluid from fish eyeballs and eating feces and human flesh.
Jump Scare: Happens in the film when Richard Parker kills the hyena.
Another one when the tiger charges Pi from a dead angle.
Kids Are Cruel: Initially, because they tease him and make fun of his name. But when he invents his new nickname, his new classmates are very supportive of it, and never make any fun of him at all.
Mind Screw: Most of the book. But especially when Pi tells his story again, only this time replacing the animals with humans, and somehow it seems more gruesome than before.
Misplaced Wildlife: Discussed. According to Pi, animals are so good at keeping out of the way of humans that there are thousands living in cities that you'd never expect.
Pi: If you took the city of Tokyo and turned it upside down and shook it, you would be amazed at the animals that would fall out. It would pour out more than cats and dogs, I tell you. Boa constrictors, Komodo dragons, crocodiles, piranhas, ostriches, wolves, lynx, wallabies, manatees, porcupines, orang-utans, wild boar— that's the sort of rainfall you could expect to find.
The meerkats living on a Pacific Island.
And at the end, Richard Parker ends up disappearing into the Mexican jungle. One reason people don't believe his story is that there have been no reports of a tiger in Mexico. Pi thinks it's hilarious that people expect to be able to chance upon a tiger in a jungle.
Most Writers Are Writers: The writer, being sent to Patel for getting new ideas for his work. He ends up writing down Pi's story.
Mouthful of Pi: The young Pi cements his nickname by showing how many digits of pi he can recite.
In the alternate "the animals were people" story, the cook advocates eating the sailor out of practicality, but seems to enjoy eating humans for its own sake. And when he's killed, Pi eats out his liver and heart.
Now It's My Turn: Orange Juice's blow to the hyena was impressive, but does no good.
Oh Crap: Pi initially tries as hard as he can to save his friend Richard Parker from drowning and get him on his lifeboat. Just as he succeeds, he realizes the fatal truth: Richard Parker is also A TIGER.
One-Paragraph Chapter: The novel has a few chapters with only one or two sentences in them. In fact, part two of the book has all of its chapters in an odd order so each chapter can focus on a different object or event in the story.
One Steve Limit: Subverted by the two Mr. Satish Kumars: one the atheist biology teacher at Pi's school, the other a baker and the first Muslim Pi meets. Regrettably, both were Adapted Out of the movie.
Opposed Mentors: In the novel, the title character has two mentors, both named Mr. Kumar: the first is an uneducated but devout Muslim shopkeeper while the other is Pi's intelligent, atheistic science teacher. Despite their antithetical worldviews they actually get along well the one time they happen to meet each other, and Pi, whose two main interests are religion and animals, doesn't seem to feel conflicted between them.
Overly Long Gag: As Mr. Patel's lecture demonstrates, it's not just tigers that can kill you, but lions, leopards, Himalayan bears, sloth bears, hippos, hyenas, orangutans, ostriches, deer, camels, swans, elephants...
Pragmatic Adaptation: Ang Lee commented that while they tried to remain as faithful to the book as possible, some scenes simply could not be adapted perfectly. He explained that facing a situation where the crew spent the better part of a whole day shooting the same scene, the lead actor was showing signs of distress due filming in cold weather for hours and everyone's nerves were fraying, he chose to be pragmatic about it rather than sticking to perfectionism.
Prolonged Prologue: The novel as well as the film take an extended introduction before getting to the point where the blurb begins.
The Reveal: Richard Parker is a Bengal tiger. Of course, this fact is usually presented upfront in descriptions of the story, and in the movie, but it's worth noting that every mention of Richard Parker throughout Part One is phrased ambiguously enough that he could be assumed to be human. Only at the beginning of Part Two is his nature disclosed.
Rule of Symbolism: Several. Richard Parker is the name of several real life and fictional people who were shipwrecked and cannibalized.
Tsimtsum, the ship that sinks, is also a religious term that means "a void created by God" and "to find oneself." Tsimtsum is from Lurianic Kabbalah, which was founded by Isaac Luria, whose name is on the first page of Pi's story (Pi wrote his thesis on religious studies about him.)
Apparently, the color orange represents security. Orange Juice, Richard Parker, and the life vests were all this color.
Pi thinks up six plans to kill Richard Parker. The seventh plan, after their decision for friendship, is to keep him alive.
As it turns out, the tiger Richard Parker may just be Pi's symbol for himself, or rather, the amoral and animalistic side of himself that enabled him to survive.
"Pissing" Patel finds refuge in the name "Pi." He works for refuge in his odyssey — which lasts 227 days. Pi is 22/7.
The film adaptation has this in spades, with many critics praising Ang Lee's masterful directing and subtle use of 3D.
Shout-Out: To The Odyssey; Pi realizes that the paradisical island that he comes across is really carnivorous and eating any people and animals that end up there when he finds a tooth inside a lotus flower. It's a Lotus-BasedEating Machine.
Edgar Allen Poe's novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, tells the story of four men lost at sea, who resort to eating their own cabin boy in order to survive. The cabin boy's name? Richard Parker.
Sole Survivor: Well, Pi is the sole human survivor of the sinking of the Tsimtsum. By his account, at least.
The tiger too is the only animal survivor, after the remaining ones have been killed.
Though even in his first story there's nothing to prove that the Frenchman wasn't the ship's cook.
Too Dumb to Live: Justified with the meerkats on the floating island, who evolved for years without having to respond to any threats other than the algae. Thus, they respond to the visitors passively, even as the tiger is mauling them one by one.
Took a Level in Jerkass: In the film, the Japanese sent to question Pi after he survives are much more straightfoward about not caring about his first tale.
The Unreveal: It is never discovered why the Tsimtsum sinks. When Pi is interrogated at it by investigators, none of the circumstances seem to suggest what went wrong with it. As they put it: "Everything was normal. And then normal sank."
Unreliable Narrator: Possibly. It's not made clear whether or not Pi actually spent all his time with the aforementioned animals, or whether or not they're stand-ins for people — the cook, a sailor, his mother, himself.
Plus since he's constantly suffering from starvation and dehydration, some of Pi's more fantastic experiences may have been embellished, such as the carnivorous island.
In the film, the ending is presented initially as less ambiguous, but Freeze-Frame Bonus on the report contradicts some of Pi's story, like a storm sinking the ship.
Also Yann Martel himself, who writes this book as if it was based on true events, whereas it is actually a complete work of fiction.
Villainous BSOD: The hyena doesn't whimper or beg for mercy when the tiger kills it. This carries over in the alternate story, where Pi (the tiger) kills the cook (hyena), who fights back but knows he deserves his death.
Walking Shirtless Scene: In the book, Pi's clothes more or less rot off of his body, forcing him to spend a large portion of his journey naked. In the movie, he still goes shirtless, but gets to keep his pants, for obvious reasons.
Why Isn't It Attacking?: The hyena takes a very long time before it gets around to attacking the zebra, Orange Juice, or Pi. Pi later sees why it had waited so long, because the tiger was still on the boat.
You Monster!: Pi's mother calls the cook this many times in the alternate telling of the story.