When I was in my early teens and first decided I wanted to
be a writer, I conceived a tale of a man who started to
understand. He understood completely, perfectly,
wholly, one little infinitestmal part of the world. And
then he found that, because he understood that, be started
understanding everything around it. And then he
discovered he could extrapolate perfectly from that perfectly
understood present into the past or the future. In the
end he was consumed by spontaneous human combustion.
The more I thought about the story, the more I realized I
didn't have the wherewithal to write it, not at that age,
maybe not ever. Whatever version I churned out would
have been suitable for nothing better than a Weird
Tales-homage fanzine, if that.
Orson Scott Card wrote a story called "Unaccompanied
Sonata" probably fifteen years ago. In it, an infant
named Christian is discovered by the fascist government to
have musical talent; therefore, he is placed in a secluded
house in the forest to grow up and is exposed to no music
whatsoever, so that the compositions he would come up with on
his government-provided instruments would be completely
original, free from the taint of influence or imitation.
Those that the government judged to be capable hearers of
music would come and stand in the woods and listen to his
compositions and then go home.
It's one of my favorite stories; as far as I'm concerned,
it's probably one of the ten best short stories ever written.
End of Preambles
I wrote both of the above because I'm so completely stunned
with Darren Aronofsky's Pi that I don't even know how
to review it. He takes the glimmer of cosmic theme that
dawdled into my adolescent head and takes it to the extremes
to which it had to be taken.
He also made this movie as if he were Christian, completely
free of the cinematic tropes and cliches that have placed
distance between the filmmaker's passion and the
audience. This is a movie unmediated by tradition; it is
made as if there never were a film made previous to it.
Because of that, I'm reluctant to give a plot synopsis, as
any reader will automatically imagine the story as presented
by normal, safe, conventional cinema. But I'm as trapped
by the conventions of reviewing as most filmmakers are by the
conventions of filmmaking, so here is my attempt:
Maximillian Cohen is a driven young mathematician with
terrible headaches, working in his computer-crowded NY
apartment to find a pattern in the stock market. His
basic theory: Everything has a pattern to be
discovered. He discusses his obsession with his mentor,
Saul Robeson, a retired teacher who had devoted his life to
finding the pattern in Pi before having a stroke; now his life
is devoted to his fish and playing Go with Max.
Max is also being heavily pursued by a stock market
speculation company, as well as having struck up a
relationship with a Cabalist in a perhaps-not-so-random
encounter in a coffee shop. Max initially pushed him
away, being a lapsed Jew himself; however, the cabalist's
explanation of the mathematical basis of the Hebrew alphabet
and his explanation of gematria (the search for hidden
meanings in the Torah in which every letter stands for a
number) meshes with his own work, and a curious 216-digit
"bug" he's been getting in his programs of late.
The film is photographed in claustrophobic black and white,
overexposed to the point of chiaroscuro; motion is a
bewildering edit of handheld and static shots, all terribly
subjective without being POV shots. Sound design is
incredible, with the Trent Reznoresque soundtrack blending
beautifully with the focused sounds picked up by Max's focused
None of this description actually describes the film.
From what I've written above, you could conclude that this is
nothing more than another pretentious art film, consciously
rebelling against convention with techniques that are
themselves a second convention (like that hideous bag of
self-absorbed gas, Nadja).
But Pi is what Nadja would have wanted to be if
the latter filmmaker had even been able to conceive of film on
What I'm trying to tell you is that I found myself sitting
forward on the couch without realizing it. I never sit
forward watching a movie. Ever.
I cannot recommend this film enough.
Genius should be
Even though the totals are completely meaningless, it's
part of the trapping convention I've invented, so here are the
body count: 0
dream sequences: I honestly can't be sure - maybe none,
ominous thunderstorms: 0
actors who've appeared on Star Trek: 1 - Mark
Margolis ("Saul Robeson") played Dr. Nel Apgar on the
TNG 3rd season episode "A Matter of Perspective"