- As mentioned in Headscratchers, I've changed view points that the metaphor is actually the philosophical side that being of doubt causes you to miss the better story. And agreeing with you up to the end. Believing in the first story means you have the guts and not the doubt. This is Pi's case of what it will take to believe in a religion. So yes with that kind of mind you could also believe in God (aka and so it goes with God). But that's not all it can mean. Pi just uses a religious metaphor because well he really likes religion and animals.
- Here's my theory: the story won't 'make you believe in God' so much as it'll make you consider belief in God a valid choice. The first story is fanciful, but it doesn't contradict reality in any significant way. The second story takes place in a suffering-filled universe that doesn't give a shit about you. Suddenly, choosing 'the universe was created by a loving god', as unlikely and hard to reconcile with reality as it is, starts sounding a whole lot better than 'once upon a time there was an explosion for no reason'.
- It sounds better - unless, of course, one prefers facing an ugly, but more plausible-feeling truth to the constant nagging doubt of possible self-delusion that comes with the more fanciful explanation.
If Pi made up the first story to make himself feel better, why would he bother telling it to the Japanese insurance men?
Fact: Pi's family was transporting zoo animals on the ship, which had escaped onto the deck during the storm.
Fact: All of Pi's family was in their bedroom, asleep or not, during the storm. None of them were seen getting out of bed to follow Pi, nor seen on the deck interacting with the crew.
Now, which events seems more likely?
That an assortment of scared animals on the deck, panicking and mistakenly taking refuge below the tarp of a lifeboat, would stay hidden during the storm while Pi was tossed on and off again, and not coming out until the next morning,
At the core of the entire story is a boy and a tiger surviving in a life raft in the Pacific Ocean. The whole time the story is being told, Richard Parker is treated in the realistic, cautious way a regular carnivorous zoo tiger would.
Pi remembers advice from his father, survival books and school about how to deal with a real tiger, and he uses the skills assertively with the results being how a real tiger would react.
He goes out of his way to recognize that the tiger is an entirely separate being, a different species with different skills that Pi wouldn't have been able to do. He even saved Richard Parker by using real materials to help him get back in the boat. Pi also started training him to fear sticks, harsh whistles and shouts, and to go where the stick tapped to expect meat.
Second, the story with the tiger is said to represent an "idealized" version, but it's really not. The murder and cannibalism of humans in the second story is supposed to be what makes it so horrifying and unpleasant, yet, the murder of a human happens in the first story too, with the Frenchman.
Third, the first story is written in a way that is as believable as it could get with the elements given. Why would Pi go so far out of his way to make the story believable? It's already pretty fantastic story and he knows people won't believe it, so why not just go all the way? Pi goes out of his way to establish the tiger as a separate entity. If the tiger was just a part of himself, why would he need to train it or do anything else? If the tiger is supposed to be his pragmatic, animal instincts that help him survive, that doesn't make sense either. Early on in his journey, Pi accepts his willingness to kill and eat meat to survive. So why would he need to continue to be careful around Richard Parker and avoid him?
Also, the meerkat bones in the boat. The Japanese insurance men suggested that they were just rat bones, but that wouldn't make any sense. Where would they come from? Even if they came off the Tsimtsum, why would Pi leave them there during the whole trip?
It's highly likely that he really did reach an island and stay there for a while but ate some hallucinogenic plants that distorted things and made him believe that the rats on the island were meerkats, and that the island was carnivorous.
- Don't forget the rat either. We have to assume one story is true and one is a fable representative of the truth. The rat falls victim to two different people in each version. Making it a hole to prove one's screwed up. In the book this would make us think it's story 2, as Pi seemingly takes a few minutes before he starts talking the second story, making it seem him overlooking that detail is a giveaway. The film, however, doesn't do that and appears Pi's storytelling time happens before the investigators come, making story 1 seem the made up one where Pi doesn't remember who ate the rat until the truth hits him. I assume it may be intentional that it is a small insignificant animal that is used to hint that the more detailed one is probably the truth in the book, the movie kind of screws up that lifeboat though.
It's worth mentioning that while the second story seems more "realistic", as one would say, it is ultimately the first story that is used in the insurance deal. This indicates that it is far more likely that the first story is the real one, especially considering that the second story seems rather... generic in terms of a survival story, we've heard a similar story to it dozens of times, and its likely that Pi made the second one up just to give the Japanese businessmen what they wanted to hear.
- In the movie, it does look as though Pi is mentally constructing a story in the exact vein of what the Japanese wanted to hear.
He didn't know it was their last meeting. They'd already arrived on a land mass before, so he couldn't be sure this was the end of their journey. Probably returned to the boat later that night and was furious to find Pi gone. Oops.