Everyone’s heard the story; everyone’s seen the poster. One boat, one Indian boy, one Bengal Tiger. The captivating story of Pi Patel surviving a ship wreck and then spending 227 days stuck on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal Tiger. With the film being talked about as having the best use of special effects, you would have been living under a rock if you haven’t seen or heard of Life of Pi.
Yann Martel gave us a story worth remembering, a story that makes us believe in the impossible, that makes us question our beliefs and, most of all, makes us think twice about the phrase “hard to believe.” It tells the tragic tale of 16-year-old Pi Patel caught on a solitary lifeboat with a hyena, a zebra (with a broken leg), a female orang-utan, and a Royal Bengal Tiger for company after surviving the sinking of a cargo ship going from India to North America.
The story is told through two different narratives, first as the writer seeking to hear Pi’s story which he was told was a “story that would make him believe in God”, and then as the story that he was told through Pi.
If you seen that story headline in our newspapers, would you believe it? Would you throw it to the side or devour every word? For most people, I’m assuming the former. I mean of course, there’s no way that a young boy could survive that. Especially not with a tiger aboard that boat… Right?
At the end of the novel, Pi is interviewed by a pair of Japanese Ministry of Transport Officials, who immediately think it’s a false story. They ask Pi for a “more believable story”, a story that “makes sense.” Enraged, Pi explains to them that what they want is actually something that doesn’t surprise them. They want facts, something in black in white that is easy for people to accept. They don’t want to publish something that is “hard to believe.” He says:
Don’t you bully me with your politeness! Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe? – Yann Martel, Life of Pi
At this point, Pi is totally insulted at the way the two officials doubt his story. So he decides to assert them on one of the most guiding principles of his life: that sometimes the most beautiful, most cherished, and most important experiences in our lives are “hard to believe”, but that in no way means they are deceptions in our realities. The things that have the most impact on us are hard to believe: falling in love, having faith in God, even the sheer existence of human beings and creatures living on Earth seems like a miracle. Sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.
Whether those two Japanese Ministry of Transport Officials know it or not, that fact that Pi is alive and telling his story, the fact that he survived, is a miracle in itself.
So to please them Pi tells a different story. One without animals, without faith, without anything hard to believe. It’s a brutal, horrible story that breaks the heart of those who hear it. And the amazing thing, is when they are forced to chose a story, the officials chose the one with the Tiger. Even at the end, when he asks the writer what story he believes, he chooses the one with the Tiger.
I think that’s beautiful, but also peculiar. That when faced with these two options, one about a horrible, heartbreaking tale, or one filled with faith and amazement, most people want the one with faith. They want something to believe in, they want hope. In usual circumstances, everyone wants the truth, but it shows that more than that, people will always want hope.
What is frustrating, is when you hear people argue over which story was the “true” story. Because then they have missed the whole point in the ending. People argue and debate over which story was the right one, which one really happened. Did he survive with the Tiger? Was it all lies? Does it matter?
The truth is, I can see a deeper meaning to the ending, and that’s where I can conjure up the Secret Third Ending: it doesn’t matter.
The ending isn’t about which one is the right one or the true one. Neither could be right, or both. That’s not the point. That’s not what Yann Martel was trying to get at. His point was that it doesn’t matter whats real or true or which is right; what matters is which ending you believe. Which one you think happened. Do you believe in the one with animals? In having blind faith, and believing in the impossible? Or do you believe in the facts, that something’s are just too ridiculous to be true?
It doesn’t matter if it’s right, in fact, that doesn’t factor into it at all. This beautiful novel shows you what kind of person you are, what kind of story you believe in. Do you think with your head? Or do you follow the faith and hope in your heart?