Creative Inspiration: Lessons learned from Life of Pi

anniemade Lessons from Life of Pi and its author Yann Martel

Last week, Gus and I had a date night for his birthday and caught a showing of "Life of Pi" in 3D. I knew very little about the movie going in - just that it had been a book and there was obviously a tiger and a young Indian boy stuck in a life boat together.

An Eye-Opening Experience - Visually and Emotionally

After seeing it, I really fell in love with the approach of the story - thanks to Director Ang Lee but ultimately to the book's author, Yann Martel. In many ways, the film tells a very simple, incredibly emotional story. It's visually breathtaking (actually worth the 3D) but keeps you connected to the characters throughout. There were a lot of things I enjoyed about it but I think what I have truly loved about my experience of seeing "Life of Pi" is how the movie and its themes and questions have stuck with me.

For those who have not seen the movie or read the book and don't want me to spoil the ending for you... stop reading here.

Though I don't want to use this blog as a religious outlet, I do have to say that I am still kind of enchanted by the way "Life of Pi" handles religion, with the title character of Pi being a kid open to so many different ways to God (Hindu, Catholicism, Kabbalah, to name a few). In a humorous exchange with his father who insists the boy should be rational without religion or finally choose one religion, Pi remains unphased. He sees the value in them all. I couldn't know in this scene how the film would end on a note that would send me in a mental tailspin.

As you may know, at the very end of the film, adult Pi unexpectedly and emotionally shares a different, far less fantastic, and far more violent and human version of the same story of his survival at sea. Pi posits the two stories as options - roads from which we should choose: one that seems more "rational"/believable and the other - you know the one with the tiger in it. "And so it is with God" is what Pi says when his audience chooses to believe the more fanciful tale.

This is the piece of the movie and the story that has really stuck with me, constantly keeping me turning the two stories over in my head. I pivot from believing one, then the other, wondering what kind of person I am given each choice and wondering what it means about God and my relationship with him. Though the puzzles continue, I find myself enriched by the question and from a creative standpoint, I am blown away by the convention of the allegory. Martel does something so eloquently that eludes so many other writers; he found a compelling, unexpected way to examine one's relationship to God and to truth and your own definition of both.

And Creative Inspiration: Writing, Success, and Persistence

Along the lines of climbing your own creative family tree, I did a little research on the background of the book and on Yann Martel. I stumbled upon this wonderful essay  in which he describes how he wrote "Life of Pi." Martel says, "I would guess that most books come from the same mix of three elements: influence, inspiration and hard work." He goes on to delve in to each of these three qualities and how they relate to this particular book.

As I was reading, I found great comfort and encouragement in how Martel describes feeling helpless and lacking belief in himself, just before the days that his way into writing "Life of Pi" finally came to him,

 I felt terribly lonely. One night I sat on my bed and wept, muffling the sounds so that my neighbours would not hear me through the thin walls. Where was my life going? Nothing about it seemed to have started or added up to much. I had written two paltry books that had sold about a thousand copies each. I had neither family nor career to show for my 33 years on Earth.

I'm not 33 quite yet, but this feels so relevant to the struggle one goes through not just as a creative, but as a young person- trying to navigate that rocky shoal of post-college and into career. Call it commiserating, but Yann Martel once was a young man who thought himself a failure without much success to show and not the world renowned author of "Life of Pi." Recently, Matt Cheuvront quoted on his blog Life Without Pants that,

The one thing all famous authors, world class athletes, business tycoons, singers, actors, and celebrated achievers in any field have in common is that they all began their journeys when they were none of these things.

And so here it is again, a creative reminder that we all struggle and that we all start somewhere. Oh, and there's that whole question about whether there was actually a tiger in that boat.

If you ask me, that's a heck of a lot to enjoy pondering from just one book and movie.

Did you see "Life of Pi" or read the book - what are your thoughts on the ending?