When he is small he tries to feed the tiger in the cage, but his father admonishes him and then brings in a goat for the tiger to slaughter. He forces his young son to see this in order that he has no illusions about the nature of the beast. Pi insists that he saw a soul in the tiger’s eyes, but his father contends that it is just a reflection back of him and nothing more.
The young Pi learns about Christianity and Islam and wishes to practice them along with his Hindu faith. This sets up the premise that God is not defined by one thing or name, but rather accessible to all people on their own terms. Pi’s seeking God, Vishnu, or Allah is more a journey of wanting to connect to the universe, and he will use whatever means he can to attain his goal.
Once out to sea on the freighter, a fierce storm hits the ship and causes it to go down. Pi survives on a life boat with an injured zebra and an orangutan. He soon learns that a fierce hyena is hiding under the tarpaulin and the hyena is kept at bay with an oar. The hyena eventually kills the zebra and the orangutan, but is then killed and eaten by Richard Parker (the tiger was also hiding under the tarp). Thus begins what will be a relationship that is filled with adversity. The tiger’s ferocity is at first kept in check by Pi as he retreats to a raft that he fashions out of flotation devices. He goes back and forth between this makeshift raft and the boat, feeding and watering the tiger, and slowly creating some kind of bond with it.
They get through terrible storms, circling sharks, and near starvation until they come upon a fantastical island filled with meerkats. Here Pi drinks water and eats fruits of the land, while the tiger feasts on the teaming population. At night as Pi sleeps in a tree he becomes aware of the phosphorescent quality of the island, with its glowing flora and fauna and realizes that the whole island is carnivorous, thus he has no choice but to once again head back to sea.
Obviously, since the adult Pi is telling the tale, we know he survives, but this is the same trope used in many films including Titanic, where the elderly Rose Dawson tells what happened to the doomed ship. Sometimes knowing the ending does nothing to diminish the power of a film because getting there is what it’s all about.