Life Of Pi Through My Vegan Eyes

article-2251390-1699940D000005DC-308_634x392Last night, I was confined to my bed with an ice pack after injuring my back on the tennis court. My husband, Jeff, suggested that I watch the movie Life Of Pi. He took my sons to see it about six months ago, and they all loved it! I don’t know what took me so long to see this mesmerizing film, but I’m glad I finally did.

As you probably know, Ang Lee’s Life Of Pi tells the story of an Indian teenager named Pi who becomes shipwrecked in a lifeboat with a ravenous Bengal tiger. The themes of this movie are quite deep, complex, and too overwhelming for me to analyze in detail. However, I was really struck by the themes of vegetarianism, and I would love to make a few comments in this regard. Feel free to give me your own interpretations in the “comments” section below or to elaborate on mine.

I couldn’t help but fall in love with Pi who is a curious, deep-thinking character with a strong sense of wonder and humanity. He is attracted to many religions and always seems to be searching for the meaning of life. Although his journey on the lifeboat appears to depict his struggles with and search for religion, it also shows his undying hope and human instincts for survival in its rawest forms.

While at sea, Pi is faced with the choices to take life and eat meat or die (cannibalism is a possibility here depending on your interpretation of the story). Obviously, these are choices he never would have had to make before the shipwreck. As a lifelong vegetarian, this moral dilemma is so overwhelming for him that he creates the illusion of the Bengal tiger to represent that part of him that absolutely needs to kill and eat meat for survival. In Pi’s mind, he co-exists on the lifeboat with the tiger as if they are not one in the same. This demonstrates his inner struggle of peaceful vegetarian vs. killer carnivore. Although he needed to create the tiger to survive, he also needed to tame the tiger to keep himself alive.

Although Pi made the choice to survive by killing animals for their meat, this choice did not come without a price. The extreme pain and outpouring of emotion Pi felt when he killed his first fish was quite moving, and demonstrated the deep-rooted moral values he carried with him even when he almost reached death’s door. After he bludgeons the fish with an axe, he wraps it in a blanket so he doesn’t have to see it, cries hysterically, and thanks God for appearing before him in the form of a fish to help him survive.

Although Pi hardens and gets used to killing fish, turtles and other animals for survival, he is forced to make more choices when his lifeboat, after getting caught in a storm, drifts to an island with thousands of animals (“meercats” or lemurs) for him to eat. There were also plants on the island and, interestingly, Pi’s first choice when he arrived there was to eat roots and plants. However, “the tiger” ate the animals.

While on the island, Pi gained back some of his strength. He probably could have stayed there, sustaining himself by fishing and eating the “meercats.” Significantly, he chose to leave the island after finding human teeth, realizing that this way of life would consume him too. I believe that the island in the movie represented sin, and Pi left the island because he felt that the sin of surviving off the flesh of others would ultimately come at a horrific price, possibly killing his soul.

When Pi is finally rescued on the coast of Mexico, he parts with the side of himself that was the “killer/carnivorous” tiger needed for survival and returns to his prior vegetarian life.

My Final Thoughts:

As previously stated, a thorough discussion of the complex, deep and numerous themes of this wonderful movie would probably be a bit too ambitious for me. However, as a vegetarian, I was able to appreciate the inner moral conflicts Pi faced when he had no choice but to kill and eat animals to survive. And it seemed to me (again, depending on your interpretation of the movie) that Pi didn’t distinguish between the value of taking a human life, or a non-human life (as exemplified by his killing of the fish) for survival.

If you are a vegetarian, I ask you to count the number of times you have been asked “would you eat animals if you were stranded on a deserted island with no other choices?” A ridiculous question, I know! Nevertheless, this is a common question posed to vegetarians all the time. Life Of Pi places a vegetarian in this very situation, and the story’s answer to this question could be interpreted as “I may eat humans, if necessary, to survive.”

Of great significance to me, was the scene in the movie where Pi thanks God for coming to him in the form of the fish to help him survive. As you may know, there are many cultures around the world which “thank the animals” for giving up their lives for human consumption. In these situations, the animals do not choose to give up their lives, and there are often other alternatives for food. Obviously, Pi needed to kill and eat the fish to survive, whereas the cultures who “thank the animals” could have chosen to eat plants to survive. Therefore, the “thanks” of these cultures are quite different from Pi’s “thanks” to God for the fish.

When removed from his life and death situation, Pi returns to being a vegetarian remaining loyal to his strong set of beliefs and ethics. As far as I’m concerned, this is a happy ending.

Although I would love to further dissect some of the movie’s other themes (such as religion vs. science), I think I may have already gone a bit too far for a blog entitled “Vegan American Princess.” I just felt compelled to do this mini-review after watching this spectacular film which I highly recommend. Tomorrow, I will go back to blogging about lip gloss and recipes.

I would love to hear your comments.

*Note: Cadry of Cadry’s Kitchen recently wrote an incredibly insightful post pertaining to those who “say a little prayer of thanks” to the animals they eat. Click here if you wish to read it.










  1. Deb,
    When I saw the movie in the theater, I had no idea what to expect having not read the book. I was mesmerized by all of it—the music, the colors, the cinematography, the CGI, and, of course, the brilliance of the story and the acting. I was very impacted by being given a glimpse into a culture in which animals are revered and respected, just as you were. The difference between our culture, which routinely and for profit, slaughters animals inhumanely while, at the same time, spends millions of dollars on frivolous and self-aggrandizing items like jeweled collars for our beloved, domesticated pets is so confusing and conflicted to me. For me, the best part of Life of Pi is the way it draws you in and holds you captive, while it makes you really ponder the complicated themes of what it means to be human that we sometimes do not want to face. It’s really brilliant and I loved your review as that brought it all back to me again!!

    • Thanks Ellen! The actor who played Pi as a teenager on the lifeboat was, apparently, an inexperienced actor and I thought his performance was stunning! I agree with you that the way our culture treats animals is confusing and disturbing. The movie definitely explores the complicated themes of what it means to be human and compels one to ask the question of what actions are acceptable in a life or death situation.

  2. Helen Maxman says:

    I thought this movie was literally the most beautiful movie I have ever seen. I did not read the book, and I know I will. I have heard it is much darker and deeper than the movie, and i am sure it will affect me in an even more profound way than did watching this mesmerizing film! Hope your back is better Deb!

    • Thanks Helen! Wasn’t it incredible the way they digitally created the animals in the movie? I haven’t read the book yet, but I plan to. I heard it was incredible!

  3. I had been hesitant about watching this movie because from the previews it looked like there would be more special effects than I typically enjoy. However, after reading your insights about the film, it sounds like there is a lot there to take in and discover, especially viewing it from a vegetarian lens. It’s interesting how films take on new meaning when you explore it from your own unique perspective. I know I’m not the only vegan who was struck by how similar The Matrix is, for example, to the ways that we choose to ignore the suffering around us, especially where animals are concerned.

    Thank you for linking to my post on saying a prayer for animals and for the kind words about it. I’m so glad that it resonated with you!

    • It’s so true, Cadry, that films take on new meaning when viewed from your own unique perspective. Thanks so much for reading the post and for inspiring me with your post on “saying a prayer for animals.”

  4. Hi Debbie. So, my husband and I finally saw Life of Pi last night after we put our kids to bed. I know, but better late than never; but, life of a parents, right? Anyways, of course I went to bed with with a million questions on my mind. One in particular was about vegetarians versus carnivores. So, I went online about it this morning and barely found anything. Of course there was plenty about symbolism and human nature, but I thought the choice of being a vegetarian was emphasized strongly in the movie, in a very subtle way. 1. Pi’s father mentions to young Pi how is missing out on lamb, followed by a discussion on making choices, and being rational about them. 2. Older Pi mentions to the American writer, “Do you mind vegetarian?” while they are talking. 3. The cook vs. the mother scene. And so much more you have already mentioned.

    By the way, some comments I’ve read confuse what happen to the mother after she is killed by the cook, but according to his story, Pi’s mother was eaten by the sharks.

    Now, the thing is, I am born and raised a carnivore, yet I still saw it’s impact in the movie. Especially in the island scene. The fresh water pond looked like an eye to me. During the day it is fresh and clean, but at night, he is poisoned by the reality of his dreams…

    Maybe it is more apparent because I have child (age 6) who truly does not like red meat, which I have accepted, but have not quite understood. Anyways, I am not sure where these thoughts will take me from here, but I appreciate you sharing similar thoughts on this topic so that I do not feel like I am the only one, and I will probably be looking at my own meal choices differently after than movie… Thanks again.

    • I’m so glad you wrote this thoughtful and insightful comment. The movie’s vegetarian themes seemed to jump out at me, although the movie was also beautiful to watch for other reasons. It sounds like your six year old might be a future vegetarian. Who knows? I don’t know why I felt compelled to write this critique after I saw the movie, but I did; so I’m glad that someone took the time to read it and appreciate it. It was like writing a book report for school. Thank you for reading and commenting! Greatly appreciated.

  5. Hi Debby – I saw the movie almost a year ago and even through my vegan lens I never completely made the connections. I couldn’t miss the vegetarian references, but failed to tie in the relationship of Pi’s necessary flesh eating to the fantasy tiger. As a vegan of course I knew the conflict Pi was faced with… I just never connected that the tiger was a coping strategy. Now I want to watch the movie all over again with a clearer view of the entire plot! Thanks so much for your insightful review. Love your other posts as well – Good job! 😉

    • Thank you so much Bea for this lovely comment. Don’t forget that the post is just my personal take on the movie’s themes. But I appreciate the fact that you read it, and thought about it enough to want to see the movie again. Thanks again!


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