Life of Pi is a story about interactions, and it uses both animals and people to discuss interactions. The film’s opening credits, presented over shots of various exotic animals, highlight this: the titles and names bounce and slither along with the animals, even to the subtle extent of jiggling in tandem with the large nose of a proboscis monkey. The plot proves interaction to be a main theme when it follows the young Indian boy Pi on a journey that forces him to constantly and directly interact with the least likely candidate for any interaction: a Bengal tiger. Well, interaction any tiger would be pretty darn unlikely, but everyone enjoys calling this one a Bengal one, so I figured I would too.
Before the shipwreck, however, the theme is still clear: Pi, a Hindi Christian Muslim, clashes with his non-believing father over the nature of the world and the nature of animals. Pi claims to see emotions in their tiger’s eyes, while the father claims that Pi merely sees his own emotions reflected in a rebuffing gaze. Pi returns to this argument near the film’s end, saying that he can’t prove that his father is wrong. Yet Pi’s relationship with the tiger does prove that they are capable of working together, as the film shows in the final shot of the film – the tiger chooses not to look back at Pi when they finally part, showing that their connection is not severed.
The film’s twist ending further expounds on the theme. By tying animals and humans together, Pi retroactively breaks down barriers of understanding about the importance of communication between the two. When humans and animals can’t interact with each other, they kill each other. When they do interact, they see each other as beings, even though they still don’t have to agree with each other. Pi never tames the tiger, but the tiger never eats him. In a similar manner, Pi’s religions and even his stories may not agree with each other, but they all interact perfectly well. The whole affair is refreshingly non-pedantic and subtle. Crash could probably learn a thing or two.