You know there's something significant about a story when President Barack Obama finds a profound truth in the protagonist's finding of faith. Considering the character "Pi" Patel in Yann Martel's "Life of Pi" manages to mesh Christianity and Islam into his own cohesive faith while stranded on a lifeboat at sea, you can see the interesting connection to our President. And because the new Ang Lee adaptation of "Life of Pi" will focus on the same search for a higher power, we have to wonder how such an obvious concept will play in glorious 3D.
For those looking for religious allegory in film, you can find it in virtually any film that's ever been made, no matter how much prurience or explicit evil the film explores. But even if spiritual analogies were intentional in other movies, Hollywood was once fairly adept at covering it up so it wasn't noticeable until the age of biblical epics. Only with instances of religion (or religions) being a part of the plot in secular films was there an indirect reference to someone finding evidence of a higher power.
"It's a Wonderful Life" (1946)
Frank Capra wasn't afraid to show his characters dealing with their own individual faiths as witnessed in the first scene of "It's a Wonderful Life." The fact that these people are praying for the outcome of George Bailey made a compelling case for all faiths being heard. Even better, Clarence the angel didn't give any direct reference to which religion he represented, despite the intriguing reference in talking to "Joseph" in Heaven.
Very earthly George Bailey is the same as Pi in "Life of Pi" in being adrift in his own sea of problems while realizing something exists that sees troubled souls through.
"Forrest Gump" (1994)
When this film released in 1994, many people found it to be a spiritual experience without really knowing why. Take a look at the direct line to "Life of Pi" in Captain Dan finding his own sense of a higher power while out on a boat during a storm, even if we never know the details. We also get the sense that Forrest lives his life based on the same creed, despite his lower intelligence seemingly not going beyond his own earthly perspective.
In the end, "Forrest Gump" was about a man who we think is spiritual. Regardless, we're not really sure what's in his head outside of a sense of peace about the world around us.
M. Night Shyamalan has always placed spiritual allusions in his movies without necessarily giving direct reference to what that represents. "Signs" expanded on "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "Contact" in attempting to differentiate between alien beings and the spiritual world. In this case, the alien beings are implied to be something spiritually evil that drives a man with a shaken faith (Mel Gibson) back to a renewed spiritual view.
We aren't really told if Graham Hess goes back to being an Episcopalian priest. Yet the movie shows that he's acknowledged the existence of a spiritual malevolence and benevolence, with the former perhaps invading without possessing the latter.
It's the stuff of metaphors that "Life of Pi" will adhere to if faithful to the book in giving the impression the lifeboat with the wild animals is all a fabrication.
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