31st January 2013 | Dave Bookless | 5 comments

The Life of Pi and the book of Job

Director Ang Lee’s film Life of Pi is a cinematic masterpiece, based on the strange and wonderful novel by Canadian Yann Martel which won numerous literary prizes including the Man Booker. I watched ‘Life of Pi’ last week, taking a break from working on a PhD which includes looking at the relevance of the book of Job for wildlife conservation. As I watched the film I noticed some parallels.

‘Faded Glory’ seen from below © Jan Messersmith

Of course there are major differences too – Pi’s religion is an eclectic post-modern mix of Hindu, Christian and Muslim. We don’t have Job’s ‘comforters’ bringing false messages of consolation. Instead, Pi’s chief companion on his epic lifeboat journey is a hungry adult Bengal Tiger. But the similarities are striking. Both stories contain God-fearing people who lose all that’s most important – family, friends, possessions, health, future-hope. They both wrestle with the question of God’s existence and nature in a world of random and terrible suffering. Pi and Job are both about questioning as much as answering and leave plenty of loose ends, yet both tales also conclude with comfortable happy family endings.

Most significantly, both ‘Life of Pi’ and ‘Job’ climax with an epiphany in the midst of a terrifying storm, an encounter with and revelation of God in the context of wild nature. The details are different (and I don’t want to include too many plot spoilers) but the natural world’s staggering beauty, terrible dangers, and complete mystery to mere mortals are wonderfully conveyed in both ‘Life of Pi’ and Job 38-41. Job and Pi are cut down to size yet simultaneously caught up into something much bigger, life-enhancing, and God-infused, leaving no room for doubt that God is indeed God.

When Pi re-tells his story he is initially met with disbelief, so he gives a credible, more prosaic one. He then asks ‘Which story do you prefer?’ He is answered ‘The one with the animals’, and Pi responds, ‘And so it is with God.’ Barack Obama apparently wrote to Yann Martel praising ‘Life of Pi’ as ‘an elegant proof of God, and the power of storytelling’. With respect, Mr President, it’s actually God’s beautiful yet threatened creation in all its majesty and mystery that is the most elegant proof of God. And, however small our lifeboat feels in the wild ocean of this world we are each called to play our part in serving and preserving our fellow creatures.

Job and the fictional Pi are not alone. We all have an inbuilt need to spend time immersed in wilderness. Why? In order to know ourselves, and to know our place in relation to our fellow creatures, but even more in order to be still and know that God is God. The characteristics of wild nature: its familiar otherness, its awe-ful beauty, its rhythm and unpredictability, tell us so much about the character of God, ‘For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities: his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse’ (Romans 1:20).

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Categories: Reflections
About Dave Bookless

Dave is Director of Theology for A Rocha International, where he works to embed creation care into international Christian organizations, theological institutions, and mission movements. His past roles with A Rocha include being an International Trustee and the co-founder of A Rocha UK (with his wife Anne). He has a PhD from Cambridge University on biblical theology and biodiversity conservation, and has contributed to many books and articles, including Planetwise, available in six languages. Born and raised in India, Dave has a love for Indian food, Indian culture and Indian Christianity. Dave is also a qualified bird-ringer and loves birding, islands, running and mountains.

View all posts by Dave Bookless (76)

5 responses to “The Life of Pi and the book of Job”

  1. David Knight says:

    A wonderful comparison of two fascinating books – I haven’t seen the movie yet. David Knight

  2. ANU says:

    Really enjoyed your commentary and comparison of Pi and Job…. Keep up the good work.

  3. Lydia says:

    What a wonderful comparison! I think “The Life of Pi” must rank as one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, and this comes after a year of incredible movies on the big screen (i.e. Les Miserables). I could be biased….am a born greenie-nature-freak, but thanks for an á-ha-moment with your comparison!

  4. Elizabeth Wright says:

    ​Life of Pi deals with themes of Faith, loss, spirituality, and survival. The notion of Faith is questioned when Pi, or Piscine, who is the main character in the novel, is interested in finding out more about the religion he grew up knowing, Hinduism. He is also very inquisitive, so he learns about other religions. He comes to love each religion he learns about separately and together as he believes they complement each other. Loss is also a major theme in this novel; Pi loses his hometown and his family in the move from Pondicherry to Canada.  Pi has to survive not only the loss of his family when the boat capsizes, but also has to learn to survive with an 800 lb. Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker within striking distance.
    ​Pi loves religion and how it makes him feel. He feels that studying different religions is key to learning about oneself. “Hindus, in their capacity for love, are indeed hairless Christians, just as Muslims, in the way they see God in everything, are bearded Hindus, and Christians, in their devotion to God, are hat wearing Muslims”. Though he is taunted by his brother, and his father disapproves of his son learning about religion, he keeps at it. Pi’s father is a self-proclaimed atheist. He believes that religion is a waste of time and a fairytale.
    ​Loss and survival go hand-in-hand in this novel. Pi has to deal with the loss of his hometown. His family had decided to uproot and move from the French-colonized Pondicherry to Canada. They have to cross the Pacific Ocean and on the way, their boat capsizes. Pi loses his entire family and most of the animals he grew to love, as they were also on the boat. . Pi says: “You can get used to anything – haven’t I already said that? Isn’t that what all survivors say?” He has to deal with a great loss and also find out where his next meal will be coming from. He goes through a lot of anguish and self-discovery.  Hindus are vegetarian by faith and Pi has been one his entire life. On the tiny lifeboat, he tries to keep some biscuits safe, but they are swallowed by the Sea. He must now resort to fishing. He must also feed Richard Parker, the tiger, which is no easy feat!  At first, it is difficult for him to kill and eat the fish and turtles, but he must do it to survive.
    ​Some of the emotions that the book evokes are sadness, smiles, joy and anger. It evokes sadness when Pi’s family is killed in the wreck and most of the animals also die. Also, towards the very end of the book when Richard Parker leaves without saying goodbye to Pi, this is also a sad part of the book. The book evokes smiles because Pi is clever and witty. Anger is an emotion that is evoked when Pi’s family dies and he is all alone. If you have ever lost someone in your family, you can understand the loss and anger that you go through as part of the grieving process. I felt joy when I read that he survived the journey across the Pacific- what a miracle!
    ​The part of the book that I would change would be the ending. The author does a great job in describing Pi’s childhood, the accident, and his journey on the Pacific. The ending leaves something to be desired. It comes to an end too quickly and the ending gives us too much to think about.  The way to remedy this is to read it with a friend or family member whom you can discuss with book with.
    ​This book deserves a rating of 9 out of 10 because the author made it easy for everyone to relate to the main character in one way or another. I would highly recommend this book to a book club because after reading this book, every member will have questions to ask each other and within themselves as well. In my opinion, this book would be more enjoyable read this way and also being made part of a group discussion.  I would also recommend it to friends who are more introspective and can handle the heavy questions on their own.