James Brundage


"Personal Note: When I was a kid my mother told me not to stare into the sun, so when I was six, I did. The doctor's didn't know if my eyes would ever heal. I was scared, alone in that darkness, but slowly, light began to creep through the bandages. But something in me changed that day. That day I had my first headache."

Thus begins Darren Aronofsky's 1998 independent trek into the surreal Pi, an incredibly complex and ambiguous film filled with both incredible style and substance. To get an idea of the director in case you have never seen him before, imagine the cinematography originality of Jim Jarmusch's Stranger than Paradise mixed with the perfect dialogue of Kevin Smith's Clerks and the bizarre and cryptic storyline of David Lynch's Eraserhead. Any surprise that all three of the aforementioned films are black and white? It shouldn't be. Pi uses an 8mm for the majority of its duration and film in a grainy black and white, giving the impression that you are watching a nightmare.

The first large challenge of reviewing this thoroughly intriguing movie is describing its plot. Max Cohen (Sean Guilette) is a brilliant number theorist. He has three assumptions about the universe, one of which is that all things have an underlying pattern, an order. The hypothesis that he creates out of this is that he can predict anything, given enough variables and knowing the underlying pattern. His place to test this hypothesis: the stock market. In his search for answers in the stock market, he discovers a 216-digit number that seems to be the key to it all: it predicts Black Monday. Jewish mystics (Ben Shenkman) believe it to be the real name of God. Market manipulators (Pamela Hart) believe it to be the key to a fortune. A brilliant mathematician (Sol (Mark Margolis)) believes it to be a bug caused when a computer becomes conscious in the instants before it dies. Max is quickly launched into a world so paranoid it makes the Orwellian works of Andrew Niccol look safe.

Max is also plagued by headaches. These headaches, strong enough to force him unconscious at regular intervals, have him taking a cocktail of painkillers in order to subdue. As he creeps closer and closer to the answer, the headaches increase in their intensity.

I think the best way to interpret this massively cryptic film would be as a single man's search for peace. Through the movie, Max is gripped by a violent obsession with numbers and a complete phobia of social interaction. He constantly shuns the advances of his neighbor Devi (Samai Shoaib). He finds himself unable to take a break from anything and, as a consequence, finds himself inside of a complete nightmare. The only way to get away from this nightmare is to give up the one thing that has been his lifelong passion: numbers. The suspense of the film is helped along with an electric score by Clint Mansell, a soundtrack that keeps you on the edge with its razor-sharp notes. Also helping is the cinematographer Matthew Libatique, who gives us an infectious feeling of paranoia with the black and white film and the constant use of an unsteady camera to show the fast movement of Max.

The film, although making numerous references to number theory, is fairly easy to understand with no mathematical knowledge: not to say that it doesn't help to know how to add and subtract. What is difficult is to view this film without a mind seeking to be intrigued, because, if you don't want intrigue, you shouldn't be watching Pi.

Also known as p and Pi: Faith in Chaos.

From filmcritic.com