Tiger, tiger, burning bright
in the forests of the night.
What immortal hand or eye,
dare frame thy fearful symmetry.” William Blake
It’s easy to see why Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s fantasy novel, Life of Pi, became a surprise success story around the world, winning four awards from eleven nominations in the Academy Awards.
It is a story both striking and unique telling of Piscine Molitor Patel, a boy growing up in Pondicherry, India, the son of a zookeeper. Piscine changes his name to “Pi”, to avoid being teased by his classmates, who pronounce his name “Pissing”.
This change of name is only the first of several fascinating changes in Pi’s experience. Some, like his name, are more or less under his control, like his pursuit of truth by simultaneously studying Christianity, Hinduism and Islam at the same time. He tries to understand God through the lens of each religion and comes to recognize benefits in each. Some, like his father’s decision to move the family and some of the animals to Canada, are not under his control, especially when the ship carrying the Patel family sinks, the rest of the family is lost, and Pi is stranded in a lifeboat for 227 days with only a zebra with a broken leg, a hyena, a gentle orangutan and a 450 pound tiger named Richard Parker for company.
The bulk of this fascinating and colorful story focuses on Pi’s struggles to survive and to make sense of the dehumanizing condition in which he finds himself. The hyena first eats the zebra and then the orangutan. The tiger has found a place to hide under the tarpaulin on the lifeboat, but the tension grows as you realize it is only a matter of time before he will emerge to kill off the hyena and then Pi.
The tiger indeed kills the hyena, but then miraculously goes back under his tarpaulin, where there is an occasional growl, keeping Pi alert for constant danger. Meanwhile, Pi is developing survival skills and learns to live alone with the threat of the tiger always present. Throughout the odyssey, it becomes apparent that when Pi is angry or fearful, the tiger comes out from his lair, and Pi strugges to regain his strength and domination over the animal.
When the journey is finally over, and the little boat reaches land in Mexico, Richard Parker and the boy are weak with hunger and near death, and the skeletal tiger silently slips off into the jungle.
Several years later, Pi has settled in Canada, and is interviewed by the insurance company for the sunken ship, who are still trying to learn how and why the ship was lost. Pi tells his story, but the men do not believe that a 13 year old boy can survive with a live tiger in a lifeboat, so Pi tells them another story, this one involving the base and vicious cook from the ship, a sailor with a broken leg, and Pi’s mother, who had miraculously made it into the little boat, and the tiger, Richard Parker.
In Pi’s mind, to shroud the utter horror of his condition, the cook has become the hyena, who kills and eats the helpless zebra with his broken leg. Pi’s mother is his next victim, with Pi cowering at the end of the boat awaiting his turn. Giving a huge roar, Richard Parker emerges from beneath his tarpaulin, and quickly disposes of the hyena and returns to his den to sleep and digest his meal.
Who then, is the tiger?
There is a tiger within all of us, sleeping, but capable of taking control unless constrained. It represents our fear and our anger. This is our ultimate strength: we are endowed with the ability to choose in which path our best interest lie. Do we conquer the tiger, or learn to subdue him?
13 thoughts on “TIGER, TIGER BURNING BRIGHT”
Glad you liked it Carole.† Have you seen the movie?† We liked it so much we will see it again!
Wonderful post! I’m so glad you liked the film.
I want to see it again!† I re-read the book, and the movie is better!† The movie seemed to bring out the “message” of the tiger more movingly than the book.† Thanks for liking my post.
We’ve not seen the film, but I do remember the publicity. I will look out for it now, though, after your marvellous review, either on video or for an outing to the cinema.
A reasoning mind is a wonderful gift, especially when the primitive self is acknowledged and all its richness, ruthlessness and emotion. Which is to take charge? Certainly, emotion is a poor guide to conduct. There is a tendency these days to encourage everyone to “feel” and spill their emotions all over the place. In reality our emotions require no such bidding. They are always present and their excesses are best submitted to rational thought for censorship.
By and large, it is what distinguishes Man from the other animals.
You are right Richard.† Isn’t it strange that the tiger within us can be useful both for good or evil?† It pushes us to strive to be better, but without a leash, he can cause havoc.† Man is the only animal who is able to choose.
Love the review, Kayti. I’m going to see it tonight I’ve just decided.
I’ll be happy to hear your take on the movie after you see it.† I’m glad you liked the review.
The transition from the arrival of tiger and boy in Mexico to the narrative constructed for the investigators confuses me. The substitution of crewman and hyena is managed so that I’m not convinced that the first narrative is the real one.
Blake’s poem and the picture demand attention, but Blake’s perception takes me in a significant tangent from the direction of the film review.
Otherwise, my compliments for the effort to convey the sense of your experience.
Did not see the movie. A tiger with a boy in a boat put up my usual prejudices. Pity, but not all is lost as your story now will ensure we’ll see it. Thank you Kayti.
We saw ‘Amour’ yesterday. It had 5 stars from all the critics. It is a good film but not a exactly a barrel of laughter; a true serious love story.
I know it probably is a wonderfully tender †movie, but it would hit too close to home for me given the age of the protaganists!† Letr me know what you think of it though.
Yes, that’s exactly what the lady queueing behind me said. Even so, she and her friend did go and see it. The movie is serious and the audience froze during the entire length of it. You could hear a pin drop. So, this film portrays death as real as life and some think it is inevitable or at least part of it.
I liked it but H wasn’t so endeared of it and felt so much more could have been done to alleviate the drawn out suffering from the dying wife. It must have taken place over a much longer time span than was portrayed in this film.
It is a very serious movie but my partner is much more into life and joy, while I am more drawn to the anxious with an acute awareness of all parties coming to a final end. If dying is not your forte, I would perhaps avoid it. Then again, if one can accept that it is most likely an end game for all of us, then it is a satisfying movie.
We came out alive and shared a glass of wine afterwards.
Gee Kayti, You are becoming a film reviewer! We saw The Quartet several nights ago. I would not recommend it. Very predictable,written for aging Baby Boomers. Lots of senior sex jokes. The ending was well done, however, but not strong enough for me to encourage anyone to see it. Ron wanted to see The Emperor. He was right. We should have seen that one.