Story

Life of Pi, based on the best-selling novel by Yann Martel, is presented as a series of flashbacks that tell the story of Pacine ‘Pi’ Patel (Suraj Sharma).

As a young boy, Pi (Avush Tandon) lives with his family in a zoo in Pondicherry, India. He’s precocious and curious about God and religion. He develops his own hybrid religion based on the Hindu, Christian and Muslim faiths. As a teenager, Pi (Suraj Sharma) is content with his life. This changes when Pi’s father Santosh (Adil Hussain) announces that he intends to sell all the zoo animals and use the proceeds to relocate the family to Canada.

Together with the zoo animals, Pi and his family are packed aboard a giant freighter headed for Canada, but disaster strikes when a violent storm sinks the ship. Pi survives and is set adrift in a lifeboat with a wounded zebra, a vicious hyena, a female orang-utan and a wild Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. The survivors fight each other to survive until only Pi and Richard Parker are left alive. As the days, weeks and months go by, Pi is witness to amazing events at sea and has fantastic adventures. Meanwhile Richard Parker gives Pi the will to survive as Pi is forced to share the lifeboat and find food for himself and Richard Parker.

Themes

Shipwreck; loss of family; survival; murder; cannibalism

Violence

This movie has some violence, much of it involving animals, and also some blood and gore. For example:

  • After the ship sinks, there are brief images of zoo animals sinking under the water and being attacked by sharks. Sharks circle around Pi in several scenes too.
  • To teach young Pi a ‘life lesson’, his father ties a live goat to the outside bars of the tiger’s cage and forces Pi to watch as the tiger attacks and kills the goat. The goat screams out in fear. The actual kill happens off screen, and we don’t see the tiger drag the goat through the bars. But we do see the tiger’s jaws locked on to the goat’s throat and the tiger dragging the goat away.
  • While Pi is aboard the lifeboat with an injured zebra, a hyena and an orang-utan, the hyena savagely attacks the zebra and orang-utan. The hyena bites the zebra on its haunches and hind legs and the orang-utan on its shoulders. Pi shouts at the hyena in distress. The zebra and the orang-utan fight back but are eventually killed.
  • The hyena attacks Pi, but the tiger leaps out from under a canvas, grabs the hyena in its jaws and kills it.
  • One scene shows Pi hallucinating. He sees a surreal scene with a whale shark swimming under his lifeboat, and a giant squid attacking a giant fish. The fish transforms into a zoo animal. Pi also sees a giant fish with a mouth full of long, sharp, fang-like teeth.
  • Pi catches a large fish and violently strikes it on the head several times with the blunt end of a hatchet. The actual killing blows happen off screen. Pi stares down at the dead fish with tears in his eyes and thanks his god for giving him the fish so that he can survive.
  • There are brief images of the tiger eating several meerkats.
  • One scene shows a violent storm. The rough seas throw Pi into the water several times while lightning strikes the water all around him. The tiger is swept back and forth along the bottom of the water-filled boat.
  • In an emotionally upsetting scene, the adult Pi says that instead of there being a tiger, a hyena, a zebra and an orang-utan on the lifeboat with him, it was really his mother (orang-utan), a sailor with a broken leg (zebra) and the ship’s cook (hyena). Pi was the tiger. Pi says that the sailor’s broken leg got infected so the cook amputated it. The cook planned not to save the sailor’s life but to end it. The cook cut up part of the dead sailor’s body for bait and also ate part of the dead sailor’s body. The cook punched Pi in the face. When Pi’s mother intervened, the cook stabbed and killed Pi’s mother while Pi watched and saw the knife sticking out of his mother. He says that the shark took his dead mother’s body. He also says that he revenged his mother by using the cook’s knife to stab and kill the cook. Because the cook knew he had gone too far, he let Pi kill him.

Content that may disturb children

Under 5

In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, this movie has some scenes that could scare or disturb children under five years. For example:

  • The storm and shipwreck scenes involve Pi screaming for his family, who are trapped below decks. He swims underwater through flooded corridors trying to reach them. Distressed zoo animals stand all over the decks of the storm-battered ship and are washed into the water. Pi is nearly drowned as his lifeboat falls into the ocean and turns upside down.
  • Several scenes show seasick animals vomiting onto the deck of a lifeboat.
  • A humpback whale with a gigantic gaping mouth jumps over Pi’s lifeboat. When the whale splashes down, the waves capsize the lifeboat, hurling Pi into the ocean.
  • One scene shows thousands of flying fish flying a couple of metres above the surface of the ocean and hitting Pi in the face and body.
  • Pi cuts up a large fish and eats it raw. He feeds large pieces of raw fish to the tiger. There is some blood and gore, and also crunching sounds as the tiger eats the pieces of fish.
  • One emotionally upsetting scene shows an emaciated Pi holding the head of the extremely emaciated tiger in his lap. Pi tells the tiger, ‘We’re dying Richard Parker. I’m sorry’. Pi cries over the tiger and prays to his dead parents, telling his god that he is ready to die. 

From 5-8

Children in this age group are also likely to be disturbed by the violent and scary scenes mentioned above. 

From 8-13

Children in this age group are also likely to be disturbed by many of the violent and scary scenes mentioned above. 

Over 13

Younger children in this age group might also be disturbed by some of the violent and scary scenes mentioned above and particularly by the implications of the true story behind Pi’s survival. 

Sexual references

None of concern 

Alcohol, drugs and other substances

This movie shows some use of substances. For example, while aboard an ocean-going freighter, a man feeds zoo animals tranquilizers hidden in bananas. This is to ease their sea sickness. 

Nudity and sexual activity

This movie has some nudity and sexual activity. For example:

  • There is some very mild verbal flirting between a teenage Pi and a teenage girl.
  • People wear brief swimwear.
  • When he’s trying to train the tiger and mark his own territory, Pi wees on the canvas covering the lifeboat. Immediately afterwards, the tiger walks up to Pi, turns its back on him and sprays wee in his face. 

Product placement

None of concern 

Coarse language

This movie has some infrequent low-level coarse language. 

Ideas to discuss with your children

Life of Pi is a magical and emotionally powerful drama. The movie is visually beautiful and its effects are enhanced in 3D. It’s about faith, friendship and perseverance, and is targeted at teenagers and adults. You should be aware that it does have emotionally upsetting themes and some scary and disturbing scenes. For this reason, it isn’t recommended for children under 12, and parental guidance is strongly recommended for younger teenagers.

The main messages from this movie are about how people are capable both of great self-sacrifice and friendship as well great evil when they’re pushed to the limits of endurance and perseverance.

Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include perseverance, resilience, inventiveness and self-sacrifice. For example, throughout the movie, Pi shows these qualities in the way he survives hardships and provides for both himself and the tiger Richard Parker. Pi repeatedly shows self-sacrifice by sharing the limited space on the lifeboat with Richard Parker to save Richard Parker’s life.

You could talk with your children about why Pi invented a fantastic tale of magic and beauty rather than telling the terrible and horrible truth. You could ask which story people would find easier to believe and why.