Spoiler alert: Pretty much everything important about the film is given away in this review. If you have any plans to watch the film without knowing the ending, I highly suggest you save this for later; the film largely depends on ignorance about the outcome for its effectiveness.
Perhaps you have heard about the new Ang Lee film Life of Pi. You may have seen advertisements for it, which communicated pretty successfully two things: one, this film is epic and two, it involves a guy being stuck in a boat with a tiger.
Turns out the preview did not mislead you – Life of Pi is a bona fide epic, and it does involve a boy stuck on a boat with a tiger. But from a strange ad on my facebook feed and an emotional post on an academic blog, I went into the film also knowing it had a much grander theme than merely spectacular visuals – I knew it had something to do with God, faith, and the meaning of it all.
Thus, I went into Life of Pi very curious but a little precautious. And at first, my precaution seemed at least slightly justified – early in the film, we are treated to several obnoxious and common mainstream (and typically liberal) truisms about faith – that God communicates himself through all the major religions, and that you cannot have faith without doubt, for lest how do you know you really believe? These are delivered by the adult Pi, living in contemporary Canada, who is visited by a struggling writer who tells him that a shared acquaintance told him that Pi had a story which would make him believe in God – and the film is structured by Pi’s recounting of this tale. This sets up the film to appear, at first, as another vehicle for delivering Hallmark-safe religion; all love, all acceptance, all inner-peace and in the end God or the force of love in the universe or whatever makes everything OK. But then things get a little more complicated.