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True Interfaith With Life of Pi

November 25, 2012

Debating what movie to watch Saturday night, I was glad we did not follow A O Scott’s review in the New York Times of Life of Pi. IMBD rated it quite highly so we went with that opinion.

I am certainly thankful we went with the latter. Having studied religion at Berkeley, I found the entire movie a delight of open-minded religious synergism, that I only wished was shared by more people in the world. Unfortunately it is not, and what is more world opinion seems to be only intensifying in the opposite direction toward greater religious ethnocentricity.

See the movie for the delightful play of cinematography and metaphor. It is the story of Pi, who as a boy coming from a Hindu background, finds the god Jesus in a church, and explores Islam. He finds kindness from a Buddhist sailor, as the family embarks on an ill-fated freighter journey with the family’s zoo in tow. They cross the Pacific on a ship fascinatingly called Tsimtsum. Unfortunately Tsimtsum sinks. To many this name would mean nothing, or they would guess it is Japanese, coming from the freighter’s country of origin.

Tsimtsum however comes from the Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition popularized in the 16th century. It explains that tradition’s teaching on cosmology: the Infinite One, Ein Sof, at one time filled all, but in an act of self contraction, made room for the world as we know, filled with both good and evil, and free will. It is a nice conception that actually could in some ways be related to modern theories of cosmology such as variants of the big bang. When I saw that name Tsimtsum, I was pleased. The bad news is the ship sinks. The symbolism is delightfully open-ended.

See the movie, and pay attention to the symbols, at least with more detail than the NY Times. If only world religions, and more importantly their often radicalized followers, could learn to reason with the mind of Pi.

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  1. I agree, I really enjoyed the movie and especially the book. I’m kind of perturbed by the negative-sih reviews in the New York Times and also in the Salon. I can see how the movie is a little sugar coated, but still at the same time it’s AMAZING that Hollywood decided to make a movie based on so many interfaith themes symbolically and literally. I think that speaks volumes for itself- and I rather watch a movie promoting interfaith understanding/thinking than movies like Twilight.

  2. Nell Maisel permalink

    My book group read this after it came out. I can’t wait to see the movie!

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