What Can Plato Teach Us about Life of Pi?
Updated: May 11
* HW for Film and Philosophy Course, GWU Fall 2019 *
Plato writes, “clearly, he said, he would first see the sun and then reason about him.” In Other words, man cannot find reason within nature or his surroundings until his primal instincts are truly satisfied. The sun, in this instance, represents the entity that allows all lifeforms to thrive in its most simplest, primal form.
Gita Patel says to Pi, “science can teach us more about what is out there.. But not what is in [the heart]. Pi cannot explore his own beliefs, or find meaning in life or his shipwrecked journey until he satisfies his primal instincts.
That is, until he can feed himself, find safety from the waters around him and from Richard Parker, and learn to navigate his place in the ocean, he cannot seek out the larger matters of life, and of his own existence.
According to Plato, “there are two subdivisions, in the lower or which the soul uses the figures given by the former division as images.. in the higher of the two, the soul passes out of hypotheses, and goes up to a principle which is above hypotheses, making no use of images as in the former case, but proceeding only in and through the ideas themselves.”
Stories are told in such a way that gives meaning to an otherwise meaningless existence. When one questions his purpose or his circumstances, he is subjected to fall into a state of existentialism, or combat this with some sort of cosmic meaning.
Pi has a conversation with the author in the film that goes like this: “So which story do you prefer,” “The one with the tiger. That’s the better story,” “'Thank you. And so it goes with god.” Whether Pi’s story of the animals on the lifeboat is true or not, it provides an allegorical meaning to his suffering that could otherwise not be obtained with a story of humans fighting one another to survive.
Plato writes, “the bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light.” When discussing light in this context, Plato is referring to good men and bad men, and how this affects man’s actions. This conscious distinction between good and bad exists only in man, and putting emphasis on quality of life, rather than the ability to survive itself.
Pi explains, “animals have souls.. I have seen it in their eyes.” Pi finds meaning in the animals on the boat with him, and places human beliefs unto them, all the while each living being on the boat is only trying to survive, and the matter of good or bad is not even relevant to them.
Plato writes, “and the only life which looks down upon the life of political ambition is that of true philosophy.” In other words, matters of identity and power and politics are only a concern to those who lack a belief in the larger meaning of life.
On the boat, Pi finds solace in his mutual relationship with Richard Parker, saying “Richard Parker, come out you have to see this. It’s beautiful!”
When the two are no longer worried about maintaining dominance over one another, or fighting for their piece of the lifeboat, the two enjoy discovering the beauty of their situation and explore the terms of their shipwrecked selves from a more philosophical manner.