What is fiction? What is the purpose of art? Grand questions indeed. The author of Life of Pi suggests it is a type of twisting reality, “to bring out its essence.” Stab reality, cut it and drink its life blood. Reality must die in order to release the spirit of fiction – its truer soul locked mercilessly into an ugly frame. The shuffling off of this mortal coil is nothing to mourn. The dreams to come are far better because we are in control of our own destiny when it comes to fiction. Art, literature, poetry and drama are to be embraced as “truer” than life itself. From art to art we live the weary in-between as we await the next escape. But according to this view the escape is not so much avoidance as homecoming.
This is one compelling theme of Life of Pi, both the book and the movie. Although in the book there are those people, like Pi’s biology teacher, who believe in absolute truth and the supremacy of the senses, Pi can interpret this belief as another faith. It is a different faith than appeals to Pi but a respectable faith nonetheless for being a conviction, an aesthetic and a passion for owning and interacting with life. Atheism is just another passion for grasping reality and squeezing it to death in order to drink the essence.
Fiction, or belief, becomes then a kind of excusable murder. Pi himself begins the story as a vegetarian who respects and honors life wherever it can be found. The harsh and unavoidable reality of being left alone on the open seas brings out in him a ferocity that he did not believe to be in himself. Does he embrace his cruelty? Does he resent it? He lives with it and begins to respect it as from a distance. As if it wasn’t actually he who killed the fish because it was some necessary task to appease the tiger Richard Parker. Pi crucifies his former convictions and enters a story that makes killing justifiable. Pi not only kills for Richard Parker but is eventually forced to kill for himself. He grabs ahold of a fish, cuts it and consumes the life of protein and vitamins. Although he is later able to return to being a vegetarian, Pi continues for the rest of his life to seize his circumstances and to cut and reorder them to release what he believes to be the haunting majesty hidden within the horror of facts.